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Opinion: We need one vision and one voice

The lack of a single voice in pharmacy continues to hold the sector back, says Mike Holden, associate director, Pharmacy Complete.

In July 2022, PSNC, now Community Pharmacy England (CPE), set out its transformation programme, which came on the back of the proposals from the Review Steering Group.

The programme included two key actions critical for the future of community pharmacy:

  • A single vision and plan for the future
  • A single voice for the sector.

The King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust were commissioned to write the former and have now published a summary of themes and proposals for feedback.

Evolution continues to underpin the themes but the sector can’t wait another 12-24 months if it is to survive. 

What I don’t understand is why the sector couldn’t write its own vision and plan. Pharmacy Voice did so back in 2016 with its collaborative Forward View blueprint. Most of that is reflected in this latest have we lost seven years of progress exacerbated by judicial reviews and lack of unity?

The NPA has produced its prospectus for the future, Making Changes Meeting Needs, which highlights the need for a clear vision and unified leadership. The CCA has also produced A Future for Community Pharmacy. All credible thinking, but where is the joint vision across the whole sector that pharmacy owners and their teams, the NHS and Government want and need to hear?

I’m fully aware of the challenges of negotiating with the NHS and DHSC, and the need to continue to develop relationships so effective influencing can happen. However, the pace of change in reforming the contractual framework, sorting out funding and modernising pharmacy’s practice must accelerate. We need a plan of action now.

Is it the lack of a single voice that is holding the sector back now more than ever?

Divergent and divisive

We frequently see individual, sometimes divergent and even divisive broadcasts from AIMp, CCA, CPE and NPA. Yet banging the table and repeatedly delivering mixed messages will achieve nothing: it never has and never will. 

By all means, feed in views through the lenses of the individual organisations, but let’s at least have one output and a call to action that the whole sector can sign up to – and the Government and NHS might then listen to it too.

The recent announcement of the £645m funding injection is welcome but it still falls far short of the £1bn black hole just to bring things back to a level before the current five-year CPCF was brought in. Will the fix come too late and cost too much to implement for many contractors who are currently operating at a loss? 

Some would argue that this is as much down to the current unfair reimbursement system as the under-valued remuneration fees. We hear little about the former in pharmacy media, but I do from the impacted contractors feeling the pain.]

Making a plea

Given that the role of all pharmacy organisations is to look after their members, can I make a plea on behalf of the unheard voices of many contractors? Can those organisations who appear to collaborate on occasions, actually do so on the critical issues of the contractual framework and funding. 

We have one contractual framework and one negotiator – so why not one vision, one plan and one voice. Pharmacy’s voice.

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