Can pharmacists and doctors park their differences and lobby together, united?
English community pharmacy is not feeling very festive. The Government’s decision to slash its funding from December could leave the average pharmacy £28,000 out of pocket over the next two years. Brexit could also cost pharmacies around £2,400 a year due to the falling value of the pound and higher importing fees, adds Sigma Pharmaceuticals.
That will hit pharmacies hard and the Department of Health’s access scheme – to protect “geographically important” pharmacies from closure as a result of the cuts – may only cover one in ten pharmacies.
The decision is perplexing given recent NHS warnings of yet new pressures on hospital A&E departments. This summer, waiting times exceeded those for every winter over the past 12 years bar one. If community pharmacies have no choice but to withdraw services, cut opening hours or close, where do Ministers think patients will go for fast advice and treatment? They will head right to A&E, pushing them even further to breaking point.
For years Ministers have made promising noises about respecting the value of community pharmacy and its potential to provide more patient services to help relieve pressures on GP surgeries. These cuts reveal the harsh reality.
So why does the Department not “get” community pharmacy despite the many academic reports demonstrating what it can add to patient care and after lobbying from the sector? It seems to boil down to an institutionalised mindset which puts pharmacists, GPs and hospital staff into separate boxes rather than starting with the patient and their journey through our healthcare system.
The political reality is that reversing these cuts will be an uphill struggle so community pharmacy will need influential allies, like GPs. While GP-pharmacy relations can be strained at times (don’t mention flu jabs), these cuts are bad news for GPs too: the last thing they need is more patients seeking appointments for conditions that pharmacists can manage.
Along with hospital doctors and patient groups there is an opportunity to find common cause and together demand that the patient comes first.
These cuts go beyond debates about the “global sum” and the number of pharmacies: they go to the heart of how the NHS provides access to healthcare and the need for a more integrated approach.
Now is a good time to forge a cross-professional alliance. It won’t be easy, given differences of views within and across the professions. Yet, with unhappy GPs, unhappy junior doctors and unhappy pharmacists, this may be the perfect hour.