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A snub to community pharmacy hasn’t got 2023 off to the best start

The optimism of C+D's editor Beth Kennedy was dashed by a conspicuous omission from the King’s New Year Honours list

Happy New Year! Forgive me for starting my first editor’s blog of 2023 on such a clichéd note. But after the manic end to December for community pharmacy teams – with strep A chaos, technical issues and stock shortages abounding – I’m certainly wishing the sector a brighter year ahead.

That said, I regret to tell you that I’ve already broken my New Year’s resolution to be more optimistic, having skimmed the King’s New Year Honours list.

I had expected to see at least one community pharmacist among the names of those with freshly minted honours.

Two pharmacists each received an extremely well-deserved Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to pharmacy – director at the Medicines Optimisation Innovation Centre Michel Gordon Scott and group chief pharmacist at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust Charlotte Anne Skitterall.

Read more: Boots chief among 3 pharmacists recognised in Queen’s Jubilee Honours list

But I could not find the name of anyone currently working in community pharmacy alongside the other names on the list.

Don’t get me wrong, I heartily congratulate Professor Skitterall and Professor Scott on receiving their honours. Both have had distinguished careers in pharmacy and I’m always glad to see members of the profession recognised – regardless of which sector they work in.

And although I doubt it was a deliberate snub, it feels a bit, well, odd that no community pharmacists were included this year, especially given the sector’s inclusion on last year’s list as well as on the Queen’s Jubilee Honours list in the summer.

It's not as though community pharmacy is never recognised at such a high level. After all, several community pharmacy representatives were invited to a reception attended by the then-Prince Charles honouring healthcare workers for their “dedication” during the COVID-19 pandemic just a few months ago.

Read more: Prince Charles praises pharmacy teams' ‘dedication’ at St James’s Palace reception

He also extended his “warmest thanks” to pharmacy teams for their tireless work during the pandemic in a video address to guests at the National Pharmacy Association’s centenary dinner at the end of 2021.

In any case, your average pharmacy professional is motivated far more by offering excellent care to their patients than receiving public recognition, regardless of how much they deserve the latter.

But I am minded to think that issuing a community pharmacy worker or two with an MBE – although I can think of many who deserve one – could well have given them the boost they needed to keep going despite the untold pressures they come into contact with every day.

Granted, this is a small issue – infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things, given the continuing funding constraints, workforce issues, and other pressures the sector is currently subject to.

But the fact is that community pharmacy cannot survive on patient trust and gratitude alone.

We have heard again and again over the past few years that something has got to give. More money is needed for pharmacy to keep on providing a stellar service. Workload can’t keep being shunted from GPs and A&E departments onto already overstretched pharmacy teams. Pharmacies can’t keep on dispensing medicines at a loss.

Funding, the drug reimbursement system, and the introduction of new services such as Pharmacy First are all big-ticket issues that the powers that be could (and should) choose to resolve this year.

So, despite my whingeing that community pharmacy was absent from the New Year Honours list, I actually think it’s far more important that 2023 becomes the year where support for pharmacy teams goes beyond mere accolades and warm words.

All I can hope is that I'm not writing the same thing come next January.

Beth Kennedy is editor at C+D

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