March 12, 8.30am. Too early for work, too late to get a coffee. I sat in my car, waiting for the day to begin. Flicking through my phone to kill time, I found the biggest news to hit pharmacy in years was front and centre.
‘Boots pharmacists vote overwhelmingly for PDA Union’. Overwhelming was no overstatement here: 92% of pharmacists who voted chose to be represented in negotiations by the Pharmacists' Defence Association (PDA) Union and in doing so, may have changed the face of community pharmacy for all of us.
It didn’t take a genius to know this result was coming. Over the years, Boots pharmacists have seen many changes to the company that some of them have worked at for their whole professional lives. Last ditch attempts from senior executives appeared to fall on deaf ears. I only hope they realised just how badly they were defeated. Surely, they saw this coming? Surely this wasn’t some sort of shock to them? If nine of my 10 employees were dissatisfied with my management, I would like to think I’d know about it.
The PDA Union has won a major victory, and one which should be celebrated by pharmacists from every corner of the profession. After some mild initial gloating – and after eight years of fighting, who can blame them? – the PDA Union cut a conciliatory tone, pledging to work together with Boots management to better the profession. It didn’t take long however, for the PDA Union to set its sights much higher. Later that day, national officer Paul Day declared that hunting season was open and every other multiple was in the firing line. This struggle for representation will not end with Boots. Indeed, it has only begun.
The pharmacy profession, as far as healthcare professions go, is in a unique position. Nurses and doctors have strong, unified and organised unions, whose sole purpose is to protect the interests of their members. Pharmacy for too long has found itself caught between protecting the pharmacies and the pharmacists, to the detriment of both.
If the government releases a vague policy that doctors don’t like, you can be assured that a representative from the British Medical Association will be sitting on every couch on breakfast TV, arguing every point on the radio talk shows. By the end of the day, the policy will be either watered down or removed altogether. We don’t have that unified voice. We are a fractured, disjointed rag-tag bunch with no common purpose and we get taken advantage of when it comes to funding.
The public doesn’t care if a large corporation is struggling to keep small stores open due to funding cuts. But people might care about a local pharmacist who cannot provide adequate care to their elderly relatives because they have no time to counsel effectively. Winning the argument is all about how you frame the argument. Boots may not like the outcome of this vote, but if it leads to us all starting to speak as one, the true result could surprise them.
The Multiple Manager works in a Northern Irish branch of a major pharmacy chain