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Surfing is better than swimming – or sinking

The new funding for pharmacy in England is a positive turn in the tide – but it is important now to begin thinking about the transitional steps everyone needs to take to realise their share of the £645m, says Michael Lennox, chief officer of Somerset LPC.

In 2004 I found myself in Australia, starting a new life as a pharmacist ‘down under’ after 17 years in community pharmacy in the East of England.

While there I took up surfing. It is not as easy as it looks, what with the relentless breaking waves, the risk of sharks and various other biting and stinging stuff. I kind of got there in the end but that feeling of falling off, clambering back on and trying to catch the next new wave feels a lot like the current situation in our sector. 

For a long time, pharmacy has been fighting against the tide, forced to concentrate on swimming and keeping its head above the water – but there is another way and that is to anticipate the next wave, and then get yourself in the right place in order to ride it. 

I appreciate that it is hard to turn the tide on one’s own, but there are progressive pharmacy contractors out there who are transitioning into new ways of running and leading their businesses.  

Blended approach

Many now acknowledge that the best version of any future deal must be a blend of a better national contract and great local deployment and enablement. It is likely that local will be a source of commissioning augmentation too. After all, local is where national tends to get invented. 

I know of those with an early adopter mindset who have already transformed their model. The NPA has established an Innovators Forum where users are sharing positive practical stories about how they have started transitioning, reimagining what their premises and their team looks like, integrating accuracy checking technicians and onsite robotics to change the dispensing process. They are imagining and then engineering what their current and future healthcare practice and business purpose is. 

Once the nitty-gritty of the contract is solved, positively embracing the ideas wrapped up in the primary care access delivery plan and its £645m investment is all-important. So what shapes what happens next? Well, in many ways, we do. Figure 1 shares my thinking on what will turn the tide.

Based on my experience in Somerset, I think community pharmacy is swimming in the right direction. And our ICS is with us. Recently our ICS primary care strategy has been finalised and it sees community pharmacy and its development as part and parcel of the delegated contract shift and as a key element of making primary care resilient in our health system. 

Through listening to patients and clinical teams, data analysis and engagement with stakeholders, we have identified eight priority actions that will form our strategy for community pharmacy over the next five years:

  • Population health
  • Urgent care and long-term conditions
  • Workforce
  • Data and digital innovation
  • Team-based care
  • Estate
  • Public awareness.

But what about right now? Find some time in between the waves breaking on you to work out your medium-term transition business plans for the next couple of years. Where does upskilling on independent prescribing and clinical examinations fit? How will you create care and clinical capacity to deliver on the access delivery plan? Talk to your wider network of pharmacy colleagues, to your LPC and national leadership bodies. The waves will still be coming, but with determination we will soon be surfing them.

Michael Lennox is also local integration lead for the NPA.

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