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John D'Arcy: We still need independent pharmacy post-EU

If an exit from the EU means more resources for healthcare, will pharmacy gets its fair share?

Although the recent referendum vote was predicted to be close, it’s safe to say, judging from the response, that a large fraction of the public didn’t expect the Leave camp to triumph.

The narrow majority is a reflection of the public’s uncertainty when it comes to the future of the UK. With many clearly still conflicted about whether the UK is better off in or out of the European Union, it seems the nation has been left dumbfounded when it comes to what we do next.

That said, early indications are not as bad as some predicted. While the pound slid in value initially, the stock market had a drop followed by a quick recovery. The big losses in stock price – mainly in banks and construction – were more than offset by a surge in pharma stocks. This is perhaps an indicator that during a period of turmoil, businesses associated with health present a reasonably safe haven.

This also highlights an interesting paradox within the health industry. While many sectors operate on a largely global basis, when it comes to healthcare – particularly in the UK – it’s becoming increasingly local.

For a start, there are four separate healthcare systems in the different UK countries. So, while the EU creates a large amount of the UK’s legislative burden – such as employment law and the quality, safety and efficacy of medicines – the implementation of health policy is left to the individual countries within the UK. In terms of health policy, the big questions still remain. What is next? And, if it turns out that an exit from the EU does mean more resources for UK healthcare, will pharmacy get its fair share?

Unfortunately, it’s simply too early to accurately predict the long-term ramifications of the vote. But whatever your personal view, one thing is for certain – we now need to face up to life outside of the EU and put a robust plan of action in place.

Step one is establishing strong leadership. Currently, it seems nobody wants to be the one to put their name – and career – on the line and get the detailed process associated with exiting Europe under way.

But, in or out of Europe, an overarching fact is demand for healthcare services is increasing at a fast pace, while the health sector’s ability to match it decreases. Community pharmacy is a key component of increasing health capacity.

Regardless of personal opinions, the referendum has triggered a huge shake-up in government personnel. I hope that the new pharmacy minister – and the new Prime Minister Theresa May – will take a proactive stance on the value of the independent pharmacy network in a post-EU UK.

John D’Arcy is managing director of Numark

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