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gary paragpuri: shopkeeper or health professional?

Shopkeeper or health professional? It’s the one question that is guaranteed to instantly get pharmacists’ backs up – like a red rag to a bull.

But you have to wonder why it provokes such a strong response. Is there an element of truth in this that the sector isn’t facing up to?

Before you answer, you should consider why the question is being asked – and the week’s biggest news story should give you a clue.

On Wednesday afternoon, the secretary of state for health Andrew Lansley was, along with health ministers Simon Burns and Paul Burstow, holed up in an underground bunker off Whitehall. Facing him were more than 50 members of the national and world press from C+D to the Wall Street Journal.

It sounds like a hostage situation, but it was more important than that. It was the release of the long-awaited Health and Social Care Bill and it represents hard evidence – if you ever needed it – that the coalition government is serious about the biggest shake-up of the NHS in living memory.

However you cut it up, the intentions are clear: cut costs aggressively and wring every bit of value out of the remaining NHS budget.

So if you’re deemed to offer no real benefit, you’ll go the way of PCTs and SHAs. But if you hold the key to making the NHS better at delivering outcomes that make a difference to patients, you’ll be rewarded with power and influence (insert GPs here).

Which brings me back to the opening question – are pharmacists shopkeepers or health professionals? If the former is true, then the sector will go the way of PCTs – redundant and with no tangible future. The latter option is the only viable path, and you could argue that it is the one that the overwhelming majority of the sector is striving for.

If you needed evidence of the sector’s aspirations, there are a couple of cracking examples in this week’s issue.

Portsmouth’s healthy living pharmacy scheme has already hit the DH’s radar, but the news that from April any pharmacies that want to get accredited as HLPs will need to demonstrate that they are meeting new quality criteria has raised the bar higher.

And let’s not forget the award-winning pharmacy QOF created by Doncaster pharmacists working hand-in-hand with their PCT. With a potential £9,000 up for grabs, it’s not surprising that they’ve hit 100 per cent participation from local contractors. Now in its third year, the scheme has clearly won the support of local budget holders.

Andrew Lansley’s NHS reforms may well have left pharmacists searching for clues as to what the future holds, but one question, at least, has been categorically answered.

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