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A Pharmacy Carol: Confronting the ghosts of the past, present and future

Xrayser reflects on the past year and looks forward to a 2024 where community pharmacy “thrives rather than survives"

As 2023 draws to an end and we get closer to Christmas, it feels like a good time to look at the past, present and future of community pharmacy. Over the last decade, we have had a poor past, with an ex-chief pharmaceutical officer stating 10 years ago that there were too many pharmacies.

Read more: Too many pharmacies, says England’s chief pharmacist

More recently, we have seen year-on-year funding cuts for community pharmacy while costs are increasing. Ten years later, and after those words were spoken by the CPhO at the time, we have lost more than 1,000 pharmacies with many more concerns to come. And 10 years on, the damage that those words and thoughts of the ex-CPhO caused is still talked about.

Read more: Are you ready for Pharmacy First? Deadlines for upfront cash announced

But if we pause and take a few minutes to look back on the last three years we would realise that in 2020, when a global pandemic hit the world bringing everything to a halt, community pharmacy shone. We stood up, adapted, and remained agile in an ever-changing world. The public was in need of each and every pharmacy, and suddenly everyone was saying how important community pharmacy was.

What we didn’t see was an increase in funding, and like other key workers, our hard work was only recognised with clapping on Thursday evenings. This was all very nice, but the clapping didn’t stop the demise of LloydsPharmacy or the closure of 300 Boots’ pharmacies, as well as many others.

Read more: ‘Historically significant’: All the reaction to Lloydspharmacy’s high street exit

The present, however, is a completely different story. It seems that the last three years of celebrating community pharmacy have been forgotten. Despite all of the amazing work we did during the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels as though we have to keep putting the case forward on why we are a key integral part of primary care.

When new services are launched, we are questioned on how qualified we are to deliver the services. It’s honestly a shock when other healthcare professionals ask the question: “How are you qualified to give out antibiotics?” or “There’s concern that pharmacists will increase antibiotic resistance as they’ll just be giving them out to everyone”.

Surely, those healthcare professionals would know that a pharmacist must complete a university degree and a year’s training before they qualify. Surely, they would also know that we have to follow a protocol when giving out antibiotics and that there is an ongoing campaign to reduce antibiotic resistance, which was not caused by pharmacists to begin with!

Read more: Ash Soni: Independents ‘not aware of just how financially challenged’ they are

And don’t even get me started on the arguments about community pharmacy being paid for new services, and the conversations on how that would be better spent on GP surgeries. It’s like the flu vaccination arguments all over again. We are not looking to take money from any other part of the NHS; we simply want enough funding to make owning a community pharmacy viable.

We know that we will need to do more work to receive the funding and we also know that our work will release capacity in GP surgeries, which will release capacity in urgent care for the system, it’s a win, win!

So, what does the future look like? I see two options: either a bright future that’s pharmacy green (like “the future’s bright, the future’s orange”), or one where we keep doing what we’ve always done and keep receiving the same results we always have.

Read more: ‘Very positive’ but ‘not perfect’: Contractors on recovery plan reforms

Let’s go for option one, where we thrive rather than survive. One where we stop trying to justify our place in primary care and just do our job very well, so that nobody can dispute that we have a place within the NHS and within primary care.

With the Pharmacy First service and the independent prescribing (IP) pathway service, the future of primary care truly involves us and I’m sure we’ll see lots more to come in 2024!

The identity of Xrayser remains a mystery, but their irreverent views are known by all. You can Tweet them @Xrayserpharmacy

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