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Ash Soni: Pharmacists need to ‘step up’ and take the opportunities they’re given

The National Association of Primary Care (NAPC) president has said that community pharmacists need to “step up”, “take on the responsibility and deliver” when they are offered opportunities at a local level.

Mr Soni, who served as Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) president from 2014-16, made the comments at Avicenna’s annual conference held last weekend (September 17).

Speaking about the additional funding available through integrated care systems (ICSs), he told delegates that pharmacists need to “make [their voices] heard” by commissioners.

“The standard response will be 'oh, the local pharmaceutical committee (LPC) will do that’, somebody else will do that, the national bodies will do that.’ [But] this can't happen,” he stressed.

He added that the reason pharmacy is “ignored is because [commissioners] forget what we can do because we're not at the table”.

"Those people locally have seen what you've done and they have the money in their hands to be able to start up the opportunity,” he said, adding that “the challenge will be, though, when you get asked, you need to step up…take on the responsibility and deliver it”.

Mr Soni, who is also NHS Sussex integrated care board (ICB) workforce and remuneration committee chair, said that local commissioners “have seen what pharmacy has done over the last two years” during the COVID-19 pandemic and now want to “take that value and use [it]”.

He stressed the importance of taking part in their discussions, adding that “that's going to take some time from you, it's going to take some energy [and] it's going to take some commitment”.

“But if you really want to start thinking about other streams of resource…that's where all the money is,” he told delegates.


“When will I get my life back?”


During a group Q&A with Community Pharmacy England (CPE) chief executive Janet Morrison and Avicenna sales and purchasing director Brij Valla, one member of the audience raised concerns about when pharmacists would have the time to form connections with ICSs.

Addressing Mr Soni, they said that they are “keen to do services” but that GPs and nurses get “protected time” to deliver these while pharmacists do not.

“For us to be able to train staff up, I have to [stay] after I finish work, come in on my Saturdays and on Sundays...but there is going to come to a point where even I can't stand up anymore, I'm going to be collapsed on the floor with a heart attack,” they said.

They added that they “can be bombarded with services all day long”, asking “where do we stop [and] when will I get my life back?”

It comes after the publication of the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust’s “vision” for community pharmacy this week (September 19), which said that pharmacies should be commissioned to deliver five more essential services within the next five years.


No timeline for £645m cash injection


Meanwhile, Mr Soni stressed that locally commissioned services from ICSs could be a financial lifeline. 

He said that “the reality” is that “the best [the negotiator] will get us is a sustainable core” to “hopefully break even, but it's not going to make you big margins”.

Speaking in the Q&A session, Ms Morrison refused to provide a timeline for the £645 million pharmacy funding promised by the government in May – deemed “the elephant in the room” by Mr Valla – saying only that CPE is currently “in intense negotiations” and is “bound by confidentiality”.

She pointed to the government’s original announcement that it “wanted to get [the Pharmacy First] service up and running in the winter”.

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