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Insider's view: What was it like at the pharmacy court case?

C+D's deputy news editor Annabelle Collins reflects on her three days reporting from the frontline of 2017's High Court pharmacy funding battle

I may have had some preconceptions before arriving at the High Court last month – and I entirely blame too many hours spent watching BBC court room dramas. In my mind, the barristers would be fully wigged, the judge would silence the audience with his gavel and the room would gasp in surprise at what was revealed.

Well, I was partially right. There were audible objections after some of the comments made by the Department of Health’s (DH) lawyer James Eadie regarding a certain lunch item and angry murmurs when pharmacy’s alleged high profit margin was asserted again and again by the government.

I could be biased, but the judge Justice Collins appeared sympathetic to the sector's situation from the off – he commented on the good work done by pharmacists in the arena of public health and reminded the court that the public is increasingly being encouraged to visit their community pharmacy.

Alison Foster, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee’s (PSNC) lawyer, started by reminding the judge that the negotiator brought these proceedings with sorrow – it was clear PSNC viewed the case as a last resort.

Any spectator could easily have been lulled into a false sense of inertia after the morning session on day one, but it was after lunch that the prosecution really started packing their punches. It was revealed that an industry insider had secretly given DH officials the low-down on the sector, in a testament that was later ordered to be destroyed. I was on the edge of my seat.

The second day didn’t disappoint either – it was the National Pharmacy Association’s chance to challenge the DH, and barrister David Lock threw a letter from Philip Hammond into the mix. We learned that the chancellor had tried to reassure an unconvinced Theresa May that the pharmacy cuts were necessary. Surely the fact that the most senior politician in the country had doubts could swing the judge?

Speaking to the solicitors outside at the end of day two, we were in agreement that Mr Eadie seemed rattled.

A spiky exchange with the judge set the tone for the final day of proceedings. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but it seemed to me that Justice Collins was less than impressed by the amount of information the DH had not disclosed of its own volition, or the potential impact the cuts could have on disadvantaged communities.

The three days in court shone a light on the government's cynical approach to the pharmacy cuts. We knew there was more than meets the eye, but if you had told me I would learn about the existence of a pharmacy mole, a secret impact assessment and doubts from the Prime Minister, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Catch up with all three days of Annabelle Collins' nail-biting coverage of the 2017 legal challenge to the pharmacy cuts here.


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