The announcement of a snap election means we’ll spend the next few weeks hearing how the government will tackle the social and economic challenges ahead, but their true challenge is to convince me they have a sustainable plan for community pharmacy.
I say “true challenge” because the word is bandied about like it's a puzzle supplement that comes with the weekend papers. Today’s teasers include a cryptic crossword, a sudoku, and a script bearing an unlicensed dose of ranitidine for a neonate with a sorbitol allergy.
There's an infamous story from many years ago told of an area manager. A pharmacist calls him in desperation, saying: “Mr Cameron, Mr Cameron – I've got this insurmountable problem!” “There’s no such thing as problems,” responds the area manager, “only challenges.” The pharmacy manager thinks for a moment and then replies “Mr Cameron – I've got this insurmountable challenge…”
I often think of that urban legend when in the dispensary facing an insurmountable pile of scripts to check, with a mountain of queries and an epidemic of patients wanting advice, each one a challenge waiting to be addressed with words that should I tweet them would appear most unprofessional.
Often the biggest challenges are the seemingly simplest of things, such as when someone comes to collect a prescription and gives you the wrong name. “Ho ho!” they chuckle once you have spent 20 minutes on your hands and knees having resorted to searching every script storage shelf in case it’s been misfiled. “She calls herself Maureen, but her name is actually Jill – always catches the surgery out too!”
Or the patient who strides up to reception and helpfully utters the single word “Prescription!” while we recall the parapsychology module of our pharmacy degree to telepathically determine their true intention.
And then there’s the telephone – that most obnoxious of taskmasters – which sits on the bench with a proximity detector so that it only rings when the pharmacy is full. “Have you got a prescription for me?” is the most challenging question, as we eye the hundreds of scripts on shelves and in baskets, waiting with queries or for stock not to mention the fridge, CD cupboard, and the larder of gluten-free food.
Responding that we’ve had five separate scripts for them in the last two weeks is often met with: “Have I picked them all up?” This is why I break about three phone handsets a month, as I slam them down in frustration, and every pharmacy has a large dent in the wall beside the telephone from repeatedly banging our heads.
So never mind University Challenge, Scrapheap Challenge, or The Big Painting Challenge. These aren't really challenges, they’re quizzes or games set in safe environments, where no one’s career or life could be at risk. I’d like to see those contestants sort out a monthly quota for rivaroxaban – that’s a true challenge.