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AIMp: Sector leaders’ ‘doormat approach’ to government must end

Community pharmacy organisations must stop their “doormat approach”, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) has said in an explosive interview with C+D.

Speaking to C+D earlier this month, Dr Leyla Hannbeck pointed to the reaction from sector bodies to last month's NHS workforce plan as a symptom of the problem among pharmacy organisations.

“As soon as the plan was published, some people were coming out to say, ‘that's a great, great thing’,” she said. 

Instead, organisations should be “more careful” and get to grips with what government plans mean before saying “Oh, lovely”, Dr Hannbeck told C+D.

Read more: 'Our funding is rotten': Sector needs £1.1bn now, warns AIMp chief

She added that the “doormat” reaction from the sector to announcements like the primary care recovery plan or the workforce plan was “mind boggling”. 

When the time comes to negotiate, the government can push back easily by pointing to the positive statements from the sector in support of its plans, she told C+D.

“Why are we doing this?” she asked. “The sector shoots itself in the foot every time.”


“Doormat approach” achieves nothing


“We need to have a respectful approach to representation rather than this unfortunate doormat approach, which has been around for some years and hasn't really achieved anything for our sector,” Dr Hannbeck said.

She took aim at Community Pharmacy England (CPE), the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) and the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) in her critique. 

Read more: ‘A sad day for community pharmacy’: Sector reacts to NHSE workforce plan

Dr Hannbeck said that the community pharmacy sector at present was “undermined” and “doesn't get the respect it deserves”. 

By contrast, she pointed to the way that doctors’ organisations responded to the primary care recovery plan that promised them £240 million for IT and phone systems, funding for which “they don’t have to lift a finger”. 

She said that doctors did not start “jumping for joy” but instead confirmed that the extra funding was needed and asked whether it “will be enough”.

The sector's reaction to English community pharmacy's £645m funding injection under the primary care recovery plan was largely positive, although at the time Dr Hannbeck said that while extra funding was a "step in the right direction, more [needed] to be done" to tackle the pressures community pharmacy teams are under.

Meanwhile, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) said the "devil would be in the detail" and that was "not yet clear the extent to which this investment will be enough to help the sector through these pressures".


Will contract be negotiated “properly”?


Dr Hannbeck saved her sharpest criticism for CPE, which she said needs “a fundamental change”. She questioned whether the negotiator had the “right skills” to secure a funding agreement that could rescue the sector from crisis.

It is “fine to change your name” and institute reviews by consultancy firms, “but you've got to have the right people to manage, implement, think, drive, lead”, she told C+D.

Dr Hannbeck expressed doubt around whether the upcoming community pharmacy contractual framework (CPCF) will be negotiated “properly” and whether NHS England (NHSE), the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) and CPE would “do the right thing”.

Read more: ‘Aiming for agreement in July’: CPE chief gives service negotiations update

She called for a “clear message” to emerge around funding cuts, which have left the sector in “a dire situation”.

In the same interview, Dr Hannbeck called for an “immediate £1.1 billion cash injection” for community pharmacy and said that there was “not enough noise coming from CPE” about the critical funding shortfall facing the sector.


CPE: “Easy” to be a “constant critic”


CPE hit back at the criticism, saying it is “disappointed that AIMp continues to pursue division over sector unity”.

“Dividing the sector is not an effective influencing strategy and it does a disservice to all pharmacy owners. To be a constant critic is easy – to create and promote solutions, build persuasive relationships and find a way forward is considerably more challenging,” CPE chief executive Janet Morrison said.

Read more: HSCC gives scathing review of DH progress on pharmacy pledges

She added that CPE is “the representative body for the whole of the community pharmacy sector and we consistently represent their views to government and the NHS including on the devastating funding crisis that has been imposed upon us over the last seven years”. 

It “has significantly raised the profile of the sector politically in the past year and secured an extra £745 million [£645m via the recovery plan, and a £100m excess margin write-off last autumn] for community pharmacies – this is the largest investment in many years and it was the biggest investment in any primary care sector under the government’s recovery plan”, she said.

“We will continue to work with all pharmacy organisations – both national and local – to influence government and the NHS for the benefit of all community pharmacy owners,” Ms Morrison told C+D.


Pharmacy bodies must “overcome differences”


RPS chief executive Paul Bennett said “any response” that the organisation makes on policy announcements is “based on a critical analysis of the policy issue and upon the relevant merits or otherwise of the particular policy announcement or publication by government”.

“It is our role to ensure the voice of pharmacists is heard and it is not at all unusual for RPS to find itself in complete alignment with pharmacy negotiating and trade bodies.”

And chief executive of the CCA Malcolm Harrison said that the association takes “great care to ensure that any reaction we provide to government and NHS policies, plans and announcements is considered and in line with the positions we hold regarding matters of importance”.

Read more: Dr Leyla Hannbeck: ‘Why can’t pharmacy have its own ARRS?’

He recognised that “there are many ways to represent the interests of pharmacy contractors with both the government and arm's length bodies such as the NHS” and that “the various bodies representing pharmacy contractors should work together wherever possible for the benefit of all contractors”.

But he said that it is “inevitable…that the bodies will not always be able to align their views”.

“It is the method by which we act to overcome any differences, that we should be measured as leaders within the sector.”

Read more: Scotland to see ‘largest ever' £12.3m global sum uplift, government reveals

Meanwhile, NPA chief executive Mark Lyonette told C+D that “partnership is the ideal approach” to working with the government and NHS officials, pointing to last week’s news of fresh funding in Scotland as an example that “the rewards of working together in that mode can be significant”.

“Of course, it is sometimes necessary to be critical and vocal in public”, he said, but he added that “you have to pick your moments and also acknowledge positive developments as well as highlighting problems”.

“The forthcoming investment in a common conditions service in England is based on a compelling business case, but would never have come about if the sector had failed to pay attention to diplomacy, as well as public campaigning,” Mr Lyonette said.


“Inadequate” government performance


The AIMp boss’s critique comes as a review from the health and social care committee (HSCC) yesterday (July 25) found the government’s progress on its commitments to pharmacy “inadequate”.

An expert panel convened by the parliamentary health committee found that the government had “not met” its commitment to review how community pharmacy is funded and that funding shortfalls were negatively affecting commitments “across multiple policy areas”.

And HSCC chair and former pharmacy minister Steve Brine this month called on the government to ensure that “extra” funding is rolled out to community pharmacies “fast”.

Meanwhile in Scotland, the country’s negotiator has secured a record uplift to the global sum of £12.3 million for its community pharmacies from the Scottish government, which it dubbed “adequate”.

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