When things go wrong in our sector, there is a tendency to want to blame someone – an individual or an institution. This is perhaps an understandable reaction to the dire situation into which the sector has gradually sunk over the past decade, though it is not always productive.
Now that there is some genuinely good news, with this week’s announcement of substantial new funding for pharmacy services, let’s be magnanimous enough to say “thank you” to the people who’ve helped make it happen.
It shouldn’t be underestimated how much work this has taken over many, many months – in fact years. These things don’t happen simply by bumping into a minister or an MP, although their support is valuable.
The new investment in an England-wide common conditions scheme will improve access to NHS care for common illnesses like coughs, colds and urinary tract infections, as well as providing substantial financial relief for the community pharmacy sector.
We can also think more positively about the long-term future of the oral contraception service now that there is funding for this – although the devil might yet be in the detail.
Overall, the new funding, whilst very welcome, will not resolve years of under-funding. But this is a big step in the right direction.
So, who are the people we ought to acknowledge?
- First and foremost, hard-working pharmacy teams, who have proved that they are dedicated, can-do people, in spite of huge pressures. During the Covid pandemic and since, they have given commissioners confidence that their investment will be put to good use by trustworthy, caring professionals. The way community pharmacy stepped up during the pandemic significantly changed attitudes amongst senior decision makers – community pharmacy is now seen as a solution to some of the real challenges the NHS is facing.
- Next on our list: community pharmacy contractors who have helped prove the concept of a pharmacy first service, in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and elsewhere in England.
- We are giving ourselves a pat on the back at the NPA for having persistently argued for a Pharmacy First-style service – and kept faith with our strategy and campaigning for fair funding. The then Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, first announced the intention to commission a Pharmacy First service at an NPA event in 2021 and we have sought to hold the Government to account for delivering that commitment ever since. We have also worked hard to bring learnings on developing practice in Scotland and Wales to decision makers within England. Other pharmacy leaders and politically engaged NPA members have done the same.
- We also made the right call on the NHS contraception service, making the difficult choice to stand our ground on the need for fresh funding. It is now clear, of course, that the Government scored something of an own goal by initially announcing the new service without funding, especially when it had always intended that funding for the service would be there from the start. It must be very frustrating for civil servants who have worked incredibly hard across Government to get this achievement over the line only to have the announcement delayed by more than a month. (Governments are not allowed to make announcements like this in the run-up to local government elections as they fall foul of purdah rules.)
- Senior NHS officials have maintained a dialogue with us, as well as keeping up a drum beat of support within Whitehall. They will have needed to have won over more sceptical colleagues to the merits of these developments. Many other NHS leaders, from the NHS Confederation to the Fuller and Hewitt task groups added their weight to calls for investment in pharmacy.
- All the MPs who have asked questions of ministers, including current and previous members of the All Party Pharmacy Group, also deserve our appreciation.
- No doubt there are people we have missed off this list of allies. For example, we know that several patient groups, colleagues from general practice and many other stakeholders have advocated for investment in community pharmacy. Plus tens of thousands of members of the public who signed the Save Our Pharmacies petition.
Credit where it’s due
The common conditions service is an idea whose time has come. Simply recognising that community pharmacy is a part of primary care and a solution to some of its challenges is another important element of the announcement.
Of course, the news doesn’t fix all of pharmacy’s woes. Yet when there is genuinely good news, we should welcome it warmly – and give credit where it is due.