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We need to tackle the ‘clinical’ and ‘retail’ pharmacist myth head on

“These terms have a corroding effect on political discourse”
“These terms have a corroding effect on political discourse”

PSNC’s Simon Dukes is right to rail against the use of loaded phrases to diminish community pharmacy, says C+D’s editor

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, judging by the outrage of some community pharmacists when they see the phrase “clinical pharmacist” being used to single out their colleagues recruited into GP practices.

One person who appears to share this view is Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) CEO Simon Dukes, who told the Pharmacy Show earlier this month that he “has yet to meet a non-clinical community pharmacist”. Mr Dukes lamented the fact that, in his view, the sector has “lost the battle” over the use of this term.

He then turned his attention to the phrase “retail pharmacy”, warning that its use lowers the perception of community pharmacies to “a place we don’t want to go”. Contractors who have been looking for some passion from the negotiator-in-chief would have been pleased to hear Mr Dukes add that he would “do physical harm to anyone who talks about ‘retail pharmacy’” – although I should add that he was quick to point out to me afterwards that he wasn’t being literal.

Even so, it was interesting to see that a relative newcomer to pharmacy such as Mr Dukes – who joined PSNC in May – is able to see the damage that the careless use of a name can do to the sector’s standing. It’s no coincidence that chancellor Philip Hammond described the sector as just another “retail market” when he persuaded a reluctant Theresa May to cut the sector’s funding in 2016 (read his letter in full here), and this sentiment was echoed in the dismissive description by a government lawyer of pharmacists as vendors of shampoo and sandwiches.

These examples demonstrate the corroding effect these terms can have on the political discourse. After all, it’s harder to blame the government for cutting funding to a bunch of “retailers”, or NHS England for prioritising funding for “clinical” pharmacists over their (presumably less clinical) community counterparts.

Pharmacists’ patients don’t have trouble understanding their clinical expertise or their distinct difference from high-street retailers, so why do commissioners and politicians? It seems to be an English problem – the Scottish government is happy to describe all pharmacists as “highly trained clinical experts” on its website, for example.

Perhaps Mr Dukes is right, and the “clinical pharmacist” term has become so ingrained into NHS England’s discourse that it is hard to shift, but it’s reassuring that he is at least tackling the retail misnomer head on. The argument that pharmacists are clinical experts with untapped potential to deliver services will be key to PSNC’s case in the current funding negotiations.

If Mr Dukes and his team can use these negotiations to finally dispell the “retail pharmacy” myth, he may not have to resort to dispensing physical harm after all.

James Waldron is editor of C+D. Email him at [email protected] or contact him on Twitter at @CandDJamesW

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