“I am hopeful in predicting a common ailments service going national,” Kent contractor Amish Patel told C+D at the start of the year. His hopes have been rewarded, with the news that PSNC is in negotiations over a scheme.
Mr Patel certainly isn’t the only one in community pharmacy who has been waiting for this: several others championed a national minor ailments service for England in our 2015 forecast, and many agreed with the all-party pharmacy group that it should be a priority for the new government. Indeed, 30 per cent of C+D readers said it should be the key pharmacy priority. Even the ultrasceptic C+D blogger Joseph Bush is supportive.
So it is a shame – but no surprise – that the reaction from pharmacists has been so muted. As ever, the reservation is that the devil will be in the detail – particularly in terms of how the service is funded. The shame is not that you are thinking about money; as John D’Arcy said at the Numark conference in March, “Profit is what’s going to keep us here”.
No, the shame is that the sector has become so jaded by previous funding failures that we are unable to celebrate the prospect of something that has long been campaigned for, so certain are we that there will be an ‘I knew it was too good to be true’ moment lurking round the corner. This is why readers have pointed out that what will become the fifth national advanced service must learn from the mistakes of local schemes that have tried to do things on the cheap.
It must also take lessons from the last introduction of a national service. Pharmacies lost out on more than £40 million of available funding in the NMS’s first year, so PSNC must heed chief executive Sue Sharpe’s own words of that time: “We have learned... that contractors need time to develop their teams and change their practice to adopt new roles and services.”
A smaller number of pharmacists’ reservations about the planned national minor ailments scheme is that, they say, it shows lack of ambition. Is this the pinnacle of what the sector can achieve, they ask. Of course not – but development is most likely to be evolutionary in the absence of a crisis trigger.
Of course, there is already a national minor ailments service to learn from: Scotland’s MAS. If England’s scheme apes this one, funding per patient and not per prescription could be a step towards the more revolutionary change that some so desire.