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The barriers to working with GPs

The APPG has asked C+D to enter evidence for an inquiry into GP-Pharmacy relations. Here, CPD editor Chris Chapman weighs up the arguments between GPs and pharmacists and asks for your views on the tumultuous relationship.

She's a high-flying career girl, overwhelmed by work but refusing to believe anyone can help. He's the backstreet boy who owns the shop down the street, desperate for a chance to show his worth.

She thinks he's just out for money; he thinks she only cares about herself. Cue witty jibes and insults before, grudgingly, they earn each other's respect and skip off into the sunset holding hands.

No, it's not another Jennifer Aniston rom-com vehicle – it's the romanticised view of GP/pharmacist relations.

Let's drop the pretence. Behind the frequent grumbles (pharmacists are "just shopkeepers", GPs are "rich and just want more money") and rosy, optimistic platitudes about how wonderful life could be if we just work together, there are often real, painful cracks in what should be an essential NHS relationship.

This is why the All Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) has launched an inquiry into barriers in pharmacy – and first on the agenda are "barriers created by inter-professional difficulties, in particular between pharmacists and GPs". C+D's been asked to submit evidence – so we want your views.

Where, though, do you start? Every pharmacist in the country probably has a list as long as his arm, ranging from time pressures to the sheer difficulty of getting past the practice receptionist when you call with a script query. I also suspect that, on a purely clinical level, GPs recognise the skills and efforts their pharmacist puts in. The real problem centres around two issues: professional respect and money.

The British Medical Association, for example, has on occasion expressed an astonishing contempt for pharmacists, usually by expressing concern for patient welfare.

In 2005, it labelled the thought of pharmacist prescribing as "irresponsible and dangerous", while in 2007 it said: "although we agree that there is a need for more points to access STI screening and treatment (particularly for young people), we do not believe pharmacies are the place".

The BMA is far from the only medical organisation to indulge in the odd spate of pharmacy-bashing. In May, the Royal College of General Practitioners in Wales warned of the "danger" of using the increasing role of pharmacists in patient care.

While in 2008 the Dispensing Doctors Association warned pharmacy minor ailments schemes would "destabilise patient care". Once again, the ‘bad for patients' line is wheeled out whenever healthcare looks to move away from the practice surgery.

A far more acute problem is the issue of competition. The future model of the NHS means that pharmacists and GPs will be actively vying for the same services – it's going to be cutthroat, and genuine concern has been expressed about the new structure service commissioning.

And let's not forget business decisions already seen across the UK, such as claims from pharmacy bodies that GPs have diverted scripts or demanded equity, have already caused clashes.

If we are going to overcome barriers, both GPs and pharmacists need to come clean, say what they really think and deal with it. That's why the APPG inquiry is so important: it's a chance to expose all of these barriers once and for all, look at them, and deal with them.

When we give your evidence, we don't want to offer up some bland niceties: we want the cold, blunt truth. What are the barriers to working with GPs? How are they impacting on patient care? And what can be done about it?

Tell us your views and we'll take them to Parliament.

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