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Pharmacy contraception service: Is this the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

The government’s cavalier attitude towards the rollout of the national pharmacy contraception service might not be surprising. But is concerning, says Daniel Emmett-Gulliver

Will the national pharmacy contraception service be the straw that break’s the camel’s back? I’m sorry to welcome the midway point of spring with such a loaded question, but I am concerned.

For months – no, years now – community pharmacy professionals have been placed in an unenviable position: doing more work for less money.

Read more: UPDATED: Launch date for national contraception service announced

I firmly believe in trusting your gut instinct and, when the news broke that the service would launch with an imposed (and much-maligned) late April start date, something told me that two things would emerge from what is likely to become an infamous announcement for pharmacists.

I suspected that the revelation would not go down well with community pharmacy teams up and down the country – especially as the news seemed to take those who were meant to be in the know by surprise.

This prediction seems to have come to pass, with reports that the Day Lewis pharmacy group is pausing its rollout of the contraception service, despite spending thousands on locum cover while it trained staff to deliver it. For its part, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has announced it cannot support the “immediate roll out of this service”.

Onlookers to the situation may wonder why the announcement of a new service has got the sector’s back up. Well, that’s an easy one. Perceived slights aside, it is because, just as I anticipated, there’s a lack of any new funding to accompany this new service.

Read more: Pharmacy leaders make funding plea as contraception service launch date looms

Granted, pharmacy teams can choose whether to opt into this advanced service. But when many are choosing between heating their pharmacies and mitigating the effects of dispensing at a loss, I am not sure this felt like a viable option to many of them.

The professional organisations lobbying for their community pharmacy colleagues day in and day out have been calling ever louder for increased funding over the past few months.

Community pharmacists are not asking for more money so they can slack off. Far from it. They want to do more and have shown through national emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing NHS strikes that they can step up and deliver at the moments of greatest need.

They do not do so out of self-interest but because they truly care about their patients. But they cannot deliver on this without support. And yes, that support should be financial. So where is this extra funding and why does it seem like it is not forthcoming? These are perhaps questions without a single answer.

Read more: Day Lewis halts pharmacy contraception service until funding progress made

But one thing is clear: it is no longer viable to carry on asking community pharmacies to do more for less. Would you starve any other professional of all the tools they need to do their job effectively and efficiently? I would hope not.

Community pharmacy professionals are no different. It seems pharmacists are seen as second-class healthcare professionals; that their sense of duty will override all else.

In a nutshell, that is why I am concerned. Someone please tell me my worries are misplaced…

Daniel Emmett-Gulliver is the deputy editor of C+D

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