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Why a chat with the PM has given me hope for community pharmacy's future

Has the Prime Minister's attitude to community pharmacy been misunderstood, asks Ian Strachan as he reflects on the current state of the sector

My brief yet relaxed encounter with the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, followed his walkabout with shoppers and traders at Bury’s world-famous market last month (April 15). By all accounts, the meet-and-greet at the market went extremely well and afterwards he arrived at the appropriately named Number Ten Coffee Shop. He even shared a joke about how it was much nicer than his own Number 10.

As the local pharmacist, I was presented to Mr Sunak as part of a group of selected dignitaries who have helped to define Bury’s recent legacy and what it has stood for over the years.

Read more: Our new PM is the son of a pharmacist – but will he cough up the cash?

I had met him before, but my latest opportunity arrived when he sat down next to me for coffee and cake. Our conversation was easy and relaxed. He undoubtedly has an affection for community pharmacy and reminisced fondly about his mum’s pharmacy. There was a sense of pride about that period and he was comfortable speaking nostalgically about their pharmacy.

I explained how pharmacies are very much part of the daily fabric of people's lives and provide social cohesion for communities and society at large. I described how we effectively help people to live independently and in their own homes for longer than might otherwise be possible. I asked the Prime Minister how we even start to put a price on that.

I told him that our profession is living through the worst crisis in its professional history. He listened intently, then became deadly serious. I believe that he is aligned to the agenda to advance our roles. This was my most striking observation of him. He is, in many respects, the greatest asset we have in influencing community pharmacy's destiny. I sense that he intuitively recognises the capability of this profession to be relied on more as a solution to NHS challenges. What’s more, I felt there was a confidence – even defiance from him – for it to do precisely that.

Read more: Will Rishi Sunak put community pharmacy’s ‘needs above politics’?

That was my takeaway. My overriding observation of our Prime Minister was that he has a very passionate view that pharmacies have the capability to be doing more but seems to acknowledge that we need financial support.

The fact he seems to get the possibilities is a huge plus, I feel. I’ve met a few Prime Ministers over the years but that Mr Sunak understands pharmacy's potential could be gamechanging and something we shouldn’t dismiss. I detected a profound concern for our sector from him and he seemed keen to want to help.

Before being chaperoned to an event in Blackburn, Mr Sunak turned around and thanked me for the chat.

Read more: PSNC hits back as DH ploughs ahead with reduced PQS amid 'imposed' changes

I must acknowledge the support I received from Leyla Hannbeck of the Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp), who met the then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2019. Dr Hannbeck’s assistance in highlighting some poignant messages was invaluable.

This included highlighting how the pharmacy sector epitomises courage, professionalism and resilience. We showcased that we can be trusted to deliver. Community pharmacy's hard work during lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic is something no politician should ever forget.

The situation facing pharmacy now is unprecedented on so many fronts. Hope is important for everyone in our sector now. I urge all of my fellow community pharmacists not to give up and to remain as professional and caring as they’ve always been.

Read more: Pharmacy First service ‘most likely’ route to new funding, PSNC boss predicts

That’s when pharmacy is at its best. It is a sector that has given far more than it has ever taken from society. It deserves this chance and, more importantly, it truly is the best chance primary care has to alleviate the bottlenecks and demands facing the wider NHS.

My conversation with the Prime Minister gave me reason to believe that he will personally support our cause. I certainly hope so – let’s watch this space.

 

Ian Strachan owns Strachan Pharmacy, which has four branches in north west England, and was National Pharmacy Association chair from 2014-2018

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