The choice is ours: Look to the future or get lost in the slipstream of change
Community pharmacy has the power to carve out its own destiny – and the sector must grab the opportunity with both hands, says Nick Kaye
Like me, my father and both my grandfathers were pharmacists. As were my uncle and aunt. So it is truly an honour to have been elected chair of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) last month (April 24).
Walk the corridors of the NPA’s headquarters in St Albans, Hertfordshire, and you will see a wooden board listing the names of all of the previous chairs since the NPA was established over 100 years ago. It is humbling to think I am following in the footsteps of all of those people.
My immediate predecessor, Andrew Lane, certainly set a high bar and I will do well to match his energy in helping independents thrive professionally and commercially. I could hardly have chosen a more crucial moment to take on this role. In the immediate term, the most urgent item in my in-tray is the ongoing, crushing funding crisis in England.
But at the same time, we need to do a really good job of imagining an ideal medium- and long-term future. Either we as a sector try to shape it or we will just be dragged along in the slipstream of change. We can’t let it be a case of about us but without us.
That’s why we are feeding into the current vision project being carried out by the Nuffield Trust and King’s Fund on behalf of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC).
The new NPA board is as clear as the previous one that the sector’s future lies in the delivery of clinical services and building on supply. When we met recently, we considered the medium-term position for service development and saw opportunities across urgent care, long-term conditions and prevention.
Our vision remains for community pharmacy to be the front door to providing healthcare and the first port of call for the vast majority of healthcare concerns. This will enable the sector to play to its strengths as an accessible healthcare setting and be fully integrated with other parts of the NHS.
The anticipated primary care recovery plan offers a fantastic opportunity for the government and NHS England (NHSE) to signal that they believe something similar. We eagerly await news about the sector’s role in same-day urgent care, following years of lobbying for an NHS Pharmacy First scheme. After a delay, our sense is that there will be movement soon.
Such a development seems to me to be a natural progression from the support we already offer in and around common ailments. Because I practise in Cornwall, where a walk-in NHS service has been running for years, I’m confident it will be a success, if fully-funded.
I believe the first explicit, public commitment by a health secretary to a nationwide Pharmacy First scheme was made at the NPA’s centenary dinner way back in 2021. Since then, we have talked with several secretaries of state and other senior members of the government about that particular service. We have also spoken to them about our plans to unleash community pharmacy's potential. Our ‘how we can help’ offering to government has been widely discussed and supported in Westminster.
I have three wishes as chair. First, by the end of my term, I would love to be talking about NHSE and the government of the day as genuine partners with us in transforming primary care.
Second, I want to be spending more time with patients and less time with my accountant, staring at impossible profit and loss equations.
And finally, my most fervent wish is to have enough hope in community pharmacy's future that I can recommend it as a career choice to my own children.
My son has already enrolled on a pharmacy course. Naturally, I want the best for him and the whole generation of pharmacists now starting out.
Nick Kaye is chair of the NPA