Do you ever get the sense that the United Kingdom isn’t so united? I’m not talking culturally or economically (although the debate around the Scottish referendum suggested that both are true to an extent), but rather in terms of how each government views its pharmacists.
This was brought home to me on Monday when the Welsh government gave the green light for every pharmacy in the country to deliver a common ailments service, with the initiative due to roll out later this year.
With England now the only country lacking a nationwide minor ailments service, National Pharmacy Association chair Ian Strachan was right to point out that the announcement has left the nation “isolated”. After all, Northern Ireland and Scotland have been running similar schemes for a decade (these launched in 2005 and 2006 respectively).
I don’t mean to detract from Community Pharmacy Wales’ justified sense of triumph – moments like this should be a cause of celebration for pharmacist colleagues across the UK. Welsh pharmacy bodies have long been trumpeting the potential of a national minor ailments scheme, an ambition that was given renewed hope last summer after a government review of a pilot across two health boards concluded that it could provide a “positive return on investment”.
Wales’ progressive Choose Pharmacy scheme doesn’t end with pharmacists treating patients for hayfever and headlice. The other key benefit of the scheme is one that must surely top every English pharmacist’s wishlist: access to GP and hospital patient records, plus the ability to share consultation information electronically, courtesy of a new £750,000 IT system.
The money for this IT investment has been sourced from the Welsh government’s “efficiency through technology” fund. The name speaks volumes about how the country intends to use community pharmacy. While Wales seems to understand intuitively that financing new technology for pharmacists will create efficiencies elsewhere in the health service, England remains obsessed with the quick fix of cutting costs by switching to hub-and-spoke dispensing.
More than anything else, a national minor ailments service is a vote of confidence by politicians in the profession’s future. In England, sadly, it seems that confidence is still lacking.
James Waldron is editor of C+D. Email him at [email protected] or contact him on Twitter at @CandDJamesW