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Viewpoint: A call to action – enough is enough

Pharmacy in England is running out of road. It is time to rally the public to protect a vital national asset. By Pharmacy Magazine editor Richard Thomas.

Trust is the single most important factor in the delivery of safe and effective healthcare. Survey after survey has found that the public’s trust in community pharmacists is consistently high. It is one of the main reasons patients visit pharmacies in the first place.

We have reported on numerous market research studies, each proclaiming pharmacists as “the most trusted” health professional. It was only in February’s Pharmacy Magazine that Harry McQuillan from Community Pharmacy Scotland described the special trust people place in their local pharmacy, with most saying this is the major driver behind their choice of which practice to use.

Accessibility is a key trust-enhancing factor and underpins the benefits of a widely dispersed pharmacy network. Protecting this vital asset in the public interest must form the central thrust of the Save Our Pharmacies campaign, which kicked off in earnest earlier this month.

A recent YouGov survey found that pharmacies are considered by the public as the third most important amenity to have within a 15-minute walk after bus stops and post boxes – ahead of GP surgeries, supermarkets, even primary schools.

There could not be a more convincing argument for fair funding from the Government in England. To allow the network to collapse through lack of essential investment would be a failure of common sense and morally wrong.

This is why the Save Our Pharmacies campaign is so important.

The aim of the campaign is simple: to ramp up the pressure on ministers to take urgent action to relieve community pharmacy’s immediate funding pressures; introduce a Pharmacy First service in England for minor conditions; and commit to fair and sustainable funding to ensure pharmacies’ long-term future for the benefit of patients and the NHS.

A word of caution. It is important with any campaign that the messaging does not come across as defensive and protectionist. We all remember the “Support your local pharmacies” campaign of 2016, which predicted the closure of up to 3,000 businesses if a planned funding cut was implemented.

Pharmacy closures on this scale, of course, didn’t happen in the end – not yet anyway. There is the danger of crying wolf once too often. Nevertheless, the public pressure built up as a result of that campaign was among the factors that persuaded ministers to reverse the cut. So these things can achieve results.

A minor gripe with the current campaign might be that a slogan Save Your Pharmacy would have been even more powerful. That said, the pharmacy bodies have got the messaging right this time, clearly making the point that more funding for pharmacy would free up GP capacity while not risking patient access at a critical time for the NHS.

It also presents a priceless, positive opportunity to reframe and refresh the case for community pharmacy as a vital strategic investment for the NHS.

Similarly, having gone to the effort of building a formidable coalition with patients through the petition (there were more than 2 million signatures in the 2016 campaign) it seems too good an opportunity not to remind the public at large about everything that pharmacies offer these days. It is an uncomfortable truth that many patients still don’t know what to expect from a modern community pharmacy service.

Encouragingly, the Save Our Pharmacies campaign has already gathered widespread support from pharmacy teams, MPs and the public.

A window poster, included inside the March issue of Pharmacy Magazine, can be downloaded here. Put it up and get your patients to sign the petition. Use the trust they have in you to secure their support and protect your business. Your survival – and that of the network – could depend on it. 

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