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The Area Manager: What comes first, pharmacists or pharmacy?

The funding cuts are likely to benefit pharmacy, but not pharmacists, says The Area Manager

This week, my daughter had to tell her nursery classmates what her mummy or daddy did for work. She proudly told everyone assembled that I was “a pharmacy” and that I made people better by giving them the right medicine. No amount of encouragement could get her to describe me as a pharmacist; every time she just said “pharmacy”. Naturally, the teachers stressed that this didn’t matter and though I was keen to correct things, I bit my lip. To then elaborate that daddy’s job is an area manager is a step too far for any three-year-old.

But it did get me thinking about the difference and whether it is important. If we say a pharmacy is a place where services and products are provided and sold, then it’s made up of bricks, mortar, products, services, expertise and a bit of atmosphere. Inside it are pharmacists, technicians, dispensers, medicines counter assistants, drivers, patients and customers.

A pharmacist is just that: an individual, with a strong desire to help people and hopefully earn money at the same time, while following a bunch of rules. At one point, the term ‘pharmacy’ and ‘pharmacist’ were almost interchangeable, as the pharmacist had the highest profile of any part of the pharmacy. Sometime in the past, though, the pharmacy itself came to eclipse the pharmacist inside.

I then started thinking beyond this, and wondered whether things could be good for a pharmacy if they weren’t good for pharmacists. For example, I believe the recent announcements of a 6% funding cut to the global sum for England will force innovation that will eventually be good for pharmacy – by benefiting patients – but won’t necessarily be good for individual pharmacists.

It’s fascinating to look at any historical development this way and I’d be interested to hear C+D readers’ views on other changes to the sector. More pharmacists in the country is good for pharmacy, but certainly not for pharmacists. Centralised dispensing, mail-order services and extending the role of technicians and support staff is probably good for pharmacy, but for pharmacists, I’m not so sure. The 2005 community pharmacy contract for England and Wales – and the new services it introduced – are clearly good for both. Changes to the control of entry rules arguably likewise.

What is most interesting is how this difference splits our opinions. Should we celebrate developments that are good for the pharmacy sector without being good for pharmacists? I suspect this is the debate the Royal Pharmaceutical Society struggles with. It’s a huge leap of faith for a pharmacist to support pharmacy when you know doing so might make it harder to earn a crust. I’m going to be brave and say we should. Maybe my daughter is right – I am a pharmacy after all.

The Area Manager has worked for all of the large multiples

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