Does NHS England or the Department of Health and Social Care recognise and appreciate fully the contribution of community pharmacy?
We all know the answer to that, but actually it is the wrong question. What we need to ask is how we can change that dynamic, move forward and secure a future that is financially sustainable, improves outcomes for patients and demonstrably helps the NHS address the huge challenges it faces.
There are five areas where progress needs to be made.
Firstly, we need to agree with the DHSC a vision for community pharmacy that delivers world-class healthcare services in partnership with other professionals. There has been much talk about an integrated patient-centric healthcare service, but that cannot be achieved without community pharmacy as a core pillar.
And without a vision, it is difficult to see how you can agree a common sense pharmacy contract that provides fair and sustainable funding over the medium- to long-term. That then delivers the financial stability we need in order to invest in our branch networks – something the Government has called for. So, Government: you do your part and you can trust us to deliver.
Secondly, community pharmacy needs to be more involved in the service innovation pilots taking place across England to join up healthcare provision. Community pharmacy needs to have a voice at a top level in those pilots but I am not sure we are achieving that at the moment.
We are enthusiastic about what we do and the difference it makes to the lives of people. We need to do more to engage policy-makers and commissioners to ensure they too share that enthusiasm.
Thirdly, we need to continue to work towards presenting Government and policy opinion formers with a clear, distinct and united voice. We may never have the kind of influence the BMA has, but that should be our ambition.
Fourthly, in an internet age, we need to get better at explaining why a visit to a bricks and mortar pharmacy is better for patients and the NHS than a delivery through a letterbox. We need more sustained personalised care for a population that is ageing and living with multiple chronic conditions.
Much as I admire Royal Mail, a box of medication delivered through the letterbox every month is not the high-quality healthcare many patients need or deserve.
That is not to say that internet pharmacy does not have a part to play. We cannot be a King Canute sector. Rather, it is to go back to a vision of healthcare in the UK that understands where the internet and medicines supply works well and where the physical interaction between patient and professional is required.
Finally, we need to embrace change and technological evolution. I recognise remote supervision and hub-and-spoke are controversial, but time and technology have moved on and we must recognise that. Can you imagine life without your mobile phone and sat nav, or indeed life without the internet?
I believe that despite the current issues we face, community pharmacy has an exciting future ahead of it. If you look at what the NHS needs, what patients need and what politicians want from our healthcare system, then you invariably end up with community pharmacy as a solutions provider.