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What happens on the board 'rebalancing' pharmacy regulation?

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Mr Gallier-Harris: Fears and issues around dispensing errors are very real to me
Mr Gallier-Harris: Fears and issues around dispensing errors are very real to me

Pharmacist David Gallier-Harris shares his experiences on the influential programme board

In 2013, the Department of Health brought together a board of pharmacists, regulators and patient representatives, and tasked it "rebalancing" medicines legislation and pharmacy regulation.

The board is probably best known for its ongoing work to create a legal defence from criminal prosecution for pharmacists and pharmacy staff who make an inadvertent dispensing error. But it hit the headlines earlier this month due to pharmacists' concerns about another aspect of its remit: to "address" legislation on pharmacy supervision.

C+D caught up with Mr Gallier-Harris – one of over 20 members of the programme board – last month, before the latest pharmacy supervision debate, to get a glimpse of what happens behind closed doors.

How did you get involved with the board?

I became involved because there was a desire from the board to have some grassroots representation. I work for Asda as a store-based pharmacist. At the time the board was looking for representation, I was a member of Asda's focus group, which meets quarterly to feedback ideas from stores to head office.

Our then superintendent pharmacist John Evans asked for expressions of interest, and it went from there. As a real-world, patient-facing pharmacist at the 'coalface' – or however you wish to describe it – the fears and issues around dispensing errors are very real to me. It was a case of: here’s an opportunity to say what I think. I had no choice but to take it.

Do you think real progress is being made towards decriminalisation?

Yes, most definitely! One thing I’ve taken from the whole process is the sheer number of hoops and obstacles involved in making a change to the law. It’s been a long, long process. Two general elections, devolved administration elections, a referendum – not to mention parliamentary recesses – have dragged things out.

It’s fair to say that there is a collective sigh at each delay, but equally a collective will to see things through. There is a lot of work and effort being put in to drive the work forward. The outcome of making the issue of an inadvertent dispensing error a professional matter – rather than a criminal one – is too important; for pharmacists, but also patients.

What have you learned?

The thing I’ve taken from the board regarding dispensing errors is that the board understands the fears of pharmacists, and has put in place the required changes to allay them. It’s been a drawn-out process, but we’re getting there.

How involved are pharmacists in making the changes?

There is very open and reasoned debate on the board. The chair, Ken Jarrold, is very good at allowing everybody the opportunity to speak and express their views.

I have to say that at times I’ve been concerned at directions of travel and there has been lively debate. I’ve been fortunate enough to see challenging arguments from representatives such as the Royal Pharmaceutical Society – indeed seeing this first-hand was the driving factor in my rejoining the society three years ago.

I feel I’ve also had a direct impact on the board’s work. I’m definitely not there just to say 'yes' to everything.

I’ve discussed elements of the board’s work with my peers. I feel it’s important to get their views on the topics – be it dispensing error legislation, responsible pharmacist regulations or indeed proposals around supervision. I’m there on the board to represent the views of many, not just myself. I’ve been happy to speak to anyone who’s interested and take their views into account in my representations.

Where do we go from here?

Well, we keep going. Amending the dispensing error legislation is a big, big deal, but is nearly there. Work around supervising and responsible pharmacist regulations puts the relationship on a more professional-based footing (as opposed to a restricted legal one).

Supervision is still to be decided, so there's still lots to do.

9 Comments
Question: 
What issues do you think the programme board should focus on?

Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

On balance, I still oppose decriminalisation, what is needed is a plan to arrest the increased error rates we have now when compared with say 20 years ago. Decriminalisation serves no purpose in this regard, i.e. does removing the threat of a criminal prosecution contribute to less errors?

Ilove Pharmacy, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

*This comment has been deleted for breaching C+D's community principles*

Martin Astbury, Community pharmacist

Well done David, I have seen your contributions on the Rebalancing Board. You are not afraid of saying how it is, that is despite the pressure that is exerted by non frontline pharmacists and peers from other sectors who don't know what they are talking about when it comes to community pharmacy and Supervision. Keep up the great work.

Yuna Mason, Sales

If you're standing up to them, well done. Well done for the article too and inviting other's views. You shouldn't have to be alone on the board though in representing the grassroots; the fact that you are tells you what you need to know. Its not about having one or two more grassroots pharmacists on the board - it should be about engaging with all of them. Instead they're operating behind closed doors with an agenda, planning to "engage" only once they've already made decisions. That's not engagement and it's very poor.

Yuna Mason, Sales

No offence, but I think if they were really interested in grassroots representation, they wouldn't just have one pharmacist on the board. They'd provide a way for many pharmacists to be involved and would be much more transparent.

Brendon Jiang, Community pharmacist

Taking a quick look at the 20 board members most of them are pharmacists and the minutes are published to allow transparency.  Maybe take some time to check it out?

http://www.gov.uk/government/groups/pharmacy-regulation-programme-board

Yuna Mason, Sales

They're not grassroots pharmacists, they're representing organisations. Perhaps if I'd said "they wouldn't just have one pharmacist on the board representing grassroots pharmacists" it would have been clearer.

Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

Yuna Mason, you are right, maybe David Gallier-Harris, the author can confirm whether he submits a report to Asda after each meeting, and does he get a locum to stand in, and whether Asda counts the time spent in the group as 'work' time?

John Evans, Student

Eric Yuen, you are a rascal! 

 

You know how we worked at Asda. You spent enough time with us in store, then as one of our Asda Pharmacy District Managers, then back as an Asda  pharmacist before you retired. 

 

You will also know how the Asda Professional Development Group later known as the Asda Pharmacist Voice worked, where store pharmacists would feed ideas and issues into the their APV pharmacists who would bring them up at our quarterly 2 day sessions, and there we would thrash out a solution.

 

You will have known David Gallier-Harris and you will know that he spoke his mind - along with other APV members - and he took with him the views of his colleagues to the ‘rebalancing board’. And yes he used to feedback to the group what had been discussed (if it wasn’t confidential) again to get their views.

 

Anyway Eric, I hope that you are enjoying retirement as much as I am!

P.S. must get my job title changed....

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