From the response we’ve had from the public in the space of a few short weeks, I can honestly say that I’m ready to march on Number 10 if necessary.
It is a far cry from when the petition first arrived and my staff and patients knew very little of what was going on. Now, my staff are battle-hardened veterans who have given the 20-second summary of the proposals – and their impact on patients, pharmacies and the NHS – to hundreds of people.
Who knows if a petition will change the world (probably not), but all of those people who have been in my pharmacy now know that their pharmacy service is under threat. That is the win here – awareness and public support. Everyone has signed the petition, young and old, regular and new faces, rich and poor, those with long-term and acute conditions.
The people who would normally be moaning that they had been waiting 30 seconds for their 15-item ‘walk-in’ have all shown their support for the pharmacy service. Could we be the ‘people’s professional’?
Over the past few months, I’ve seen the pharmacist in the next town on the front cover of the local paper, telling people that he is at risk of closing when the cuts come. I’ve heard pharmacists on the radio and seen pharmacists on the TV. I’ve seen stories in both papers and online. Pharmacy has been everywhere.
It has been really heartwarming to see grassroot pharmacists speaking out against the madness of the Government’s plans. The last time I heard, more than half a million people had signed the petition; that is as many people who live in, say, Norwich and the surrounding area. I can only guess that a good result looks like a million-plus, which on current form should be do-able. The question is, will it change anything?
We all know that politicians are fickle and the NHS has, for this Government, been an absolute sacred cow – the one area where the opposition has the advantage – so it agreed to keep increasing the budget (by as little as it could get away with to be able to say it wasn’t cutting the NHS). After the shambles of Andrew Lansley’s disastrous NHS reforms, Jeremy Hunt was brought in as a safe pair of hands and to keep his head down.
This seemed to work for the coalition, but since last May it looks like the Conservatives have either lost the plot or decided, with a long time to go before the next election, that they can do something about the NHS now. Junior doctors, consultants and GPs have all been in the line of fire.
Of all these groups, GPs seemed to have walked away with the best deal – around a 10 per cent pay rise by 2020, by my estimate. Although I don’t begrudge our colleagues a decent settlement, it is difficult to see this as anything other than a redistribution from community pharmacy to general practice. I’ve never understood why the Conservatives don’t see pharmacy as a natural ally or as a counterbalance to the powerful GP lobby.
The people who would normally be moaning have shown their support
The only way we can change a politician’s mind is to show how hurting pharmacy hurts him or her. How many votes do they lose? How many bad headlines does it create? We are seeing a lot of media interest in pharmacy; there is always a lot of patient interest. What we need now is for someone to join the dots and turn people power into political power, then we’d be onto a winner.
We can all do our bit by participating fully in this campaign, by engaging with our elected representatives, not just now, but over the next few years, to keep pharmacy in their minds – especially as we know they are going to run into huge problems with their aim to create a seven-day NHS.
They will not be able to recruit enough doctors to fill the gap created by retiring GPs, and they will not be able to reduce demand on the NHS, which goes up with every year as the burden of long-term conditions continues to rise. The Government has already lost – it just doesn’t know it yet.
At some point the Government, civil servants and NHS bureaucrats will see which way the wind is blowing and turn back to community pharmacy. When they do, minor ailments, vaccination, management of long-term conditions, pharmacist prescribing – all will be realities. Until then, we build support, one patient at a time.