“Goodbye Pharmacy Voice and hello again to the good old days of fragmentation and division.” The stark prediction of Numark managing director John D’Arcy – written in response to the news that the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) will stop funding the lobbying group – may have seemed a tad alarmist back in January.
But a month later and this worrying vision could be becoming a reality. At the 2017 Sigma conference in Rio de Janeiro, the fractures were clearly visible. NPA chair Ian Strachan addressed the elephant in the room head-on, defiantly stating that the disintegration of Pharmacy Voice – since revealed to be an inevitable effect of the loss of the NPA’s funding – will not produce a “vacuum” in pharmacy representation. “At least we’re more in control now,” he told delegates.
Whether you share Mr Strachan's optimism or not could depend on where you sit in the sector. Many independent contractors may be pleased to see the NPA cast off the multiple views (in both senses of the word) of Pharmacy Voice and prioritise the needs of its own members. But does political independence come at the loss of influence?
That’s certainly the message from former pharmacy minister Alistair Burt, who told the conference that “ministers need to know clearly who is speaking and who is in charge”. At the moment, it’s hard to see how the NPA, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), and whatever emerges from the remains of Pharmacy Voice, will be able to agree on this.
That’s the bad news. But while pharmacy representation appears to be fragmenting, the passion for the sector clearly isn’t. Whether it’s Mr Strachan’s firebrand speech (watch a clip here), RPS English board chair Sandra Gidley’s call for Olympic strength in the face of adversity, or the desire for a "sustainable pharmacy network" from Pharmacy Voice’s Claire Ward and recent PSNC recruit Fin McCaul, there was no lack of energy in the conference hall this week.
If this determination can be channeled into a joint effort that is listened to by policy makers, then perhaps we won’t see a return to the old days of division after all.
James Waldron is editor of C+D. Catch up with all his coverage from the Sigma conference in Rio with C+D's Storify here