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Put pharmacy, and pharmacists, first

C+D's new editor-in-chief says the government needs to finish what it's started if it wants Pharmacy First to succeed.

It’s a pleasure to write to you for the first time, although the news isn't all good. Last week we ran stories about fines, fiascos, expulsions, cocaine, nonsensical ways of working, shocking anti-social behaviour, and, less shockingly, a delay to an IT system rolled out by the government. 

Clearly it isn't a serene time for pharmacy. But it’s an exciting time, says the pharmacy minister.

Exciting is a word for it. It's certainly feeling rushed and unpredictable. Pharmacy First might have future potential for pharmacies and patients, but it has launched looking wobbly at the front end with dodgy tech around the back.

It might eventually mean good news for roomy pharmacies on pleasant high streets in leafy communities without sizeable GP surgeries. It might also mean bad news for cramped and underfunded pharmacies on unkempt high streets coping with an influx of new customers, many of them visibly unwell.

Post-COVID crowded rooms are not fond of sniffers, sneezers or coughers, and we know some of your patients are not blessed with the same levels of patience as you. You’re greeted by social, economic and political problems to add to the health-related ones in your local community whenever you open the doors. You deserve some logistic solidity and fiscal reassurance to embrace this fresh dawn.

Read more: ‘Financially inequitable’: NHSE switches off 111 referrals to DSPs

‘We don’t need anyone to feel sorry for us!’ you cry, and you’re right. Pharmacy is not the only workforce under pressure, or the only workforce daydreaming of escape. But the hasty rollout of Pharmacy First to England has cranked the pressure up a little more, and the hectic nature of the launch is anathematic to the methodical and exacting approach practiced by the community pharmacist. You are not famous for rushing.

The motivations behind the government’s speedy launch range from pragmatic to political to profitable. Some caring GPs have also raised concerns. But in these choppy early stages it’s reassuring to know whatever opportunities or challenges this launch might afford or pose for pharmacies, it does the same for the government.

It will be willing Pharmacy First to succeed because it could deliver an instant reduction across various health-related targets, with months of boasting time to go before a general election. So, amid the plucky promises and cheery optimism and yet more instability the run up to the election will bring, perhaps it will deliver what’s required. You know, like a pharmacist.

Read more: C+D Awards 2024 are now open for entries - with a heroic new category

Of course, chief among the big issues isn’t Pharmacy First, but the peaky state of the inflation-riddled five-year pharmacy funding deal. When a new boost in government funding does arrive, and in further shocking news it’s also been delayed, it probably won’t meet what’s required, though it should. It all adds to the pressure you are under. I see 85% of you want to quit, while recent comments from contractors really are shocking. You all deserve better.

CPE chief executive Janet Morrison says you need to be realistic about any new levels of funding. So does the government. 

Having entrusted pharmacy to look after the basic health of the nation, it needs to do the same for the basic health of pharmacy – and pharmacists. And do it quickly and comprehensively.

The government needs to give pharmacists all the support they need to make Pharmacy First a success, and give them a commensurate funding deal for the next 12 months. And then, as the election gets closer, it might have something exciting to talk about.

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