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Election fever and equality issues for the NPA

By Richard Thomas, editor, Pharmacy Magazine. It’s election time. The NPA has a new board – more on that later – and voting in the RPS English, Welsh and Scottish Pharmacy Board elections will open on April 30. Twitter is alive with election chat. Candidates’ views are scrutinised and challenged like never before, opinions exchanged, arguments fought out. It’s li  

Workload pressures are a sector-wide issue and need to be addressed

By Richard Thomas, editor, Pharmacy Magazine. I spent an hour recently in a dispensary waiting to interview the pharmacist. It was mayhem. That is by no means being derogatory to the highly organised pharmacist, who was on top of her game, or her excellent (and sufficient in numbers) support staff. It was simply the sheer number of demands she was juggling as the tumult raged around her. It was humbling and rather scary.

Lack of transparency with rebalancing board doing profession a disservice

By Pharmacy Magazine editor, Richard Thomas. Autumn has descended suddenly but everywhere you look the temperature’s rising. Doctors have fired off their annual salvo at pharmacists over flu jabs, Alliance Healthcare has been feeling the heat over its deliveries meltdown (since resolved) and everyone is hot under the collar about what the Government’s rebalancing board may – or may not – be considering about supervision.  

EHC row: value and price are not the same thing

By Pharmacy Magazine editor, Richard Thomas. The row over the cost of EHC from pharmacies – and the overwrought tone of much of the ensuing media coverage – raises serious questions about the perceived value of pharmacists’ professional input and how this should best be remunerated. Clearly, price can be a barrier to medicines access and there is an onus on all pharmacies to ensure that EHC is affordable. But is the cost of EHC, for those who have to pay, unjustifiably high? The British Pregnancy Advisory Service and Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare certainly think so. Presumably Superdrug and Tesco now agree with them.

Technicians supervising pharmacies? Bad idea

By PM editor, Richard Thomas. Some pharmacists may have been labouring under the misapprehension that the main task of the Government’s rebalancing board was to decriminalise dispensing errors (where the progress made so far has been precisely diddly-squat). So these pharmacists may therefore have been surprised by Mike Hewitson and Ben Merriman’s open letter to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, signed by nearly 500 colleagues. The two pharmacists wrote to the Society calling on RPS presidency candidates to come out against plans they say are being considered by the rebalancing board to legally allow technicians to supervise pharmacies. The letter pulled no punches, saying it would be a “betrayal” if the RPS did not robustly oppose such a move.

Sector losing policy battle as CPhO faces mounting criticism

By Richard Thomas, editor, Pharmacy Magazine. If there were any small doubts remaining about what the high-ups in Government really think of community pharmacy, they were surely dispelled by revelations in the High Court last month, whatever the final ruling in the judicial reviews. Inefficient, over-subsidised sandwich sellers seems to cover it – a sentiment so misleading, ill-informed and wide of the mark it seems wrong to dignify it with a comment. However, it is the clearest sign yet that, even with the benefit of enormous public support, pharmacy in England is still failing to gain the policy high ground where it matters.

NPA decision to leave PV leaves pharmacy divided

By Richard Thomas, editor, Pharmacy Magazine. The lobbying power of the medical profession is often put down to its unity. Doctors all seem to pull in the same direction. Actually, this is largely a myth. Behind closed doors medics fight like ferrets in a sack. What they are good at, however, is managing their differences and presenting a united front. If only pharmacy could do the same. The NPA’s decision to pull out of Pharmacy Voice, which will in all likelihood spell the end of the latter, came as a blow to those who believe the sector can only benefit from having a unified voice and consistent messaging in its relations with policymakers and NHS.

So the gloves are off

By Richard Thomas, editor, Pharmacy Magazine. So the gloves are off. As contractors in England wrestle with how to implement a year’s worth of cuts in four months with just weeks’ notice, the NPA launched legal action to challenge the Department of Health’s imposed funding settlement. Getting the lawyers involved is never a course of action to be taken lightly, not least because dragging the Government to court is hardly likely to endear you to representatives with whom you’ll eventually have to sit with around the negotiating table again. However, frankly, the sector was left with no choice – a line had to be drawn.

Confusing and conflicting signals from DH

By Richard Thomas, editor, Pharmacy Magazine. They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. No wonder the profession is less than enamoured with new pharmacy minister David Mowat. He started by snubbing the RPS by not attending its annual conference in person, choosing instead to send a pre-recorded video message, in which he announced the delay of the pharmacy funding cuts.

Saturday reflections: Where now for self-care?

By Richard Thomas, Pharmacy Magazine editor. The NHS is teetering on the brink. In the last month alone there have been lurid headlines about clinical commissioning groups suspending all but the most urgent treatments for patients, restrictions on the use of statins, increasing limits on surgery for cataracts and hip and knee operations, A&E departments under threat of closure… the list goes on.

Reflections on Brexit and health inequalities

By Richard Thomas, Pharmacy Magazine editor. There is an argument that the shock result in the EU referendum was not caused by immigration fears but by a deep sense of grievance on the part of large tracts of the population. These people feel socially and economically marginalised, ignored by politicians of all persuasions. In other words, it was a protest vote on a gigantic scale and a stark reflection of the inequalities and divisions that are so rife in modern UK society.

Will the DH have its pound of flesh anyway?

By Richard Thomas, Pharmacy Magazine editor. The Government’s unexpected U-turn over hub and spoke – at least for the moment – has been hailed as a long overdue shift in position in response to convincing evidence, rational argument and massive public support. However, any hint of “I told you so” on the pharmacy side would be gravely misplaced.

Higher profile equals greater scrutiny

By Richard Thomas, Pharmacy Magazine editor. The price of pharmacy’s higher profile these days is greater scrutiny from the media. What the sector absolutely does not need now, as it mounts an increasingly effective campaign to muster public support over the clear and present threat to the network, are banner headlines in The Guardian about Boots staff under pressure to “milk the NHS for cash” with their MURs. Whatever the veracity or otherwise of the story – and it is important to stress that Boots has always insisted that MURs should never be undertaken inappropriately by its pharmacists – the company has struggled to shake off a reputation of having a target-driven culture when it comes to its professional services. Stories like this clearly don’t help.

Celebrating our 21st birthday – has anything changed?

By Richard Thomas, Pharmacy Magazine editor. The NPA accuses Asda of “retail anarchy”, contractors say they are dissatisfied with remuneration and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society calls on pharmacists to “seize and shape the future”. How little in pharmacy seems to have changed. These were the lead news stories in the very first edition of Pharmacy Magazine back in late 1995. Reading them in light of recent events, they have a very familiar ring, don’t they? Yet, of course, in reality much has changed in pharmacy, health and therapeutics over the past 21 years and we reflect on some of the most significant developments in this special 21st anniversary issue.

Time to up our game with OTC medicines

By Richard Thomas, Pharmacy Magazine editor. One of the consequences of the funding cut – 6 per cent now, probably more to come – is that it might cause pharmacies to refocus on the OTC side of their businesses in order to maximise much needed revenues. Most pharmacies have an approximately 90:10 split between their NHS and OTC turnover. Might this now change? However, if the sector is to make a concerted effort to ‘own’ the self-care and wellness agenda, pharmacy teams will have to do a better job in terms of improving the quality and consistency of advice given when OTC medicines are sold. The sector has a mixed record here, if the various Which? reports of recent years are any indication.

Now really is the time to stick together

By Richard Thomas, Pharmacy Magazine editor. Petitions, spoof Twitter accounts, muttered threats of industrial action – it has been an anxious and fractious start to the year for contractors in England following the now infamous letter from NHS England and the Department of Health announcing a 6 per cent cut in pharmacy funding and January’s category M clawback. It would appear that ministers are intent on using the blunt instrument of forcing businesses to go to the wall (alongside vague mention of what are unproven hub and spoke dispensing arrangements) in order to achieve “efficiencies” i.e. reducing the number of pharmacies. It seems a highly risky and ill-thought-through way of ensuring equitable access to pharmaceutical services without comprising quality or continuity.

Flu jabs: pharmacy is part of the solution, not the problem

By Richard Thomas, Pharmacy Magazine editor. The issue of seasonal flu vaccination continues to dominate the headlines during this (at the time of writing) mildest of autumns. Uptake of the flu jab is down by around 6 per cent and health officials, led by the Royal College of General Practitioners, are worried that the uncharacteristically warm weather is deterring or delaying patients from having the jab, even though cold conditions are not always a factor in flu outbreaks. This could increase the risks for the frail elderly and other ‘at risk’ groups, as well as potentially adding to winter pressures in the NHS.

Flu service shows GPs at their worst

By Richard Thomas, Pharmacy Magazine editor. There is a picture doing the rounds on Twitter – you may have come across it – that shows what appears to be a poster in a doctors’ surgery. Entitled ‘Support Your General Practice’, it encourages patients to have their flu vaccination at the practice and not a pharmacy because “every vaccination given by pharmacies reduces our income”. If you’ve had the misfortune in recent weeks to wade through the anti-pharmacist bile that spews out unabated from GP forums or online comment sections in the medics’ professional press, it rings very true. At a time when relations between pharmacists and doctors at a national leadership level have rarely been warmer, as illustrated by the close working between the RPS and RCGP, the situation pharmacists face on the ground is frequently fraught, territorial and downright obstructive. Collaborative working is far from an everyday reality.

Saturday reflections... public health provision in a mess

By Richard Thomas. The timing could not have been worse. As health secretary Jeremy Hunt was defending his cuts to the public health budget in front of the Commons health select committee (saying that frontline public health services had to look for the same efficiencies as everyone else), Public Health England released a report that pointed out in stark detail the extent of the nation’s junk food eating, binge drinking, chain smoking, couch potato habit.

Telegraph SCR claims a PR coup for pharmacy

By Richard Thomas. The Telegraph rarely seems to waste an opportunity to get stuck into pharmacy. There was the specials exposé a couple of years back, while readers’ breakfasts last month were enlivened by tales of alleged pharmaceutical industry largesse bestowed upon NHS medicines management officials featuring five-star hotels, gold-plated wastebins, champagne and Jacuzzis... This month it was the turn of “high street pharmacies” to feel the heat over the plans to allow them access to NHS summary care records. The paper didn’t like this at all, fearing businesses would use the information to target patients with product promotions.
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