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The green, green grass really is greener

Pharmacy in Wales is seen as the solution, not the problem. The contrast with England could not be more marked, says editor Richard Thomas.

Swotting up on community pharmacy in Wales in preparation for an online panel discussion hosted by locum agency New Directions Pharmacy got me thinking: is the green, green grass of home really, well, greener for pharmacists across the Severn Bridge?

At first glance, there are plenty of similarities between England and Wales. Contractors in both countries have fixed term flat funding agreements – and you don’t need me to tell you how tough that is. (Negotiations on a new contract in Wales were delayed by the pandemic.) The shift in practice model from supply to service is common currency, as is the need to relieve pressure on GPs through enhanced immediate care and to integrate pharmacy into local NHS structures.

Both contractual frameworks have quality markers and use the same reimbursement structure – with all its challenges – but a significant difference is that the Welsh Government chose not to impose funding cuts but instead invest in clinical service development for pharmacy teams.

Why is this? Put simply, ministers see community pharmacy in Wales as integral to NHS primary care – part of the solution, not the problem. There is a bold, ambitious vision, Delivering a Healthier Wales, that everyone has signed up to and all parties – Government, NHS and pharmacy – are moving in the same direction. This unified sense of purpose and positivity is in stark contrast to the grim situation in England.

Like Scotland, pharmacist prescribing in Wales is considered key to unlocking community pharmacy’s clinical potential in a way that reduces demand on other parts of the system. There is a strong commitment to workforce development and clinical leadership, enhancing the patient experience, and harnessing technology to improve patient care. Everything is centred on building community pharmacy’s capacity and capability to fulfil its clinical potential to benefit patients and the NHS.

Health minister Vaughan Gething has even announced an extra £3.5m of funding to help contractors in Wales meet additional Covid costs on top of the £5.6m allocated before Christmas, “in recognition of the vital role pharmacies played during the height of the pandemic in all our communities, the length and breadth of Wales”. That must stick in the throat of pharmacists in England. He also had encouraging news about Covid vaccinations from Welsh pharmacies.

So is the grass greener in Wales? In truth that is a redundant question. It’s positively verdant.

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