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‘Pharmacy can learn some lessons from the junior doctors' strike’

"As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has shown us, united we can achieve more"

Community pharmacists could achieve more funding through banding together, like junior doctors did in 2016, but without striking, says Reece Samani

The past 12 months have been huge for pharmacy in numerous ways. There have been changes both professionally and personally. There have been huge financial, emotional and logistical challenges. There has also been a huge show of strength from everyone in our profession. When our communities needed us and when we needed each other, pharmacists pulled together to help everyone through.

For me, there is no better example of that than the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which pharmacists have been a vital part of. Across the UK, pharmacists are rolling up their sleeves and administering thousands of lifesaving jabs every week. There are currently over 320 pharmacy-led vaccination sites operating in the UK, according to NHS England and NHS Improvement. And now that government requirements allow pharmacy-led sites capable of administering 400 vaccines per week to take part in the rollout, it seems likely that more will open in the coming months.

Administering vaccines is even more work for pharmacy teams already run off their feet. However, pharmacists have shown what we can achieve when we pull together and help one another for the good of our nation. The only reason pharmacists are not giving more jabs is the lack of supply.

I’ve been thinking about the power and strength there is to be found in unity. When we join forces, when we have each other’s backs, we can always achieve more. That applies in all walks of life. And it applies to fighting our own corner in exactly the same way it applies to the vaccine rollout. As an industry, we can find power in unity.

What do I mean by that? Well, there are numerous challenges our profession faces. By coming together to fight for positive change and progress, we can achieve more.

Let’s take the junior doctors' pay dispute in England in 2016 as an example. Angered by government changes to their pay, they came together under the banner of the British Medical Association (BMA) to campaign for change. Now, I would not encourage all their tactics, certainly not as a first resort. I do not think pharmacists going on strike like the junior doctors did over a few days in 2016 would be advisable or even beneficial because our first duty lies with our patients.

But there are lessons to be learned from the junior doctors. Their sector is not so different from ours. There are the same stresses, the same concerns over accuracy and ethics, and the same issues with funding. By banding together they achieved a victory.

It was a long battle, but in 2019 after the BMA took what they called a more collaborative negotiating approach, it came to an agreement with ministers over pay, working hours and conditions that was satisfactory to 82% of the BMA members.

The junior doctors’ dispute is a useful, if imperfect, example of the power of collective action, and one we could perhaps learn from in pharmacy. We have our own representative body, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), which does a fine job of advocating for the varied sectors of our industry. If more pharmacists were to come together under its banner, then we would only be stronger. I would encourage all my pharmacist colleagues to become members.

We have long talked about the issues with funding for community pharmacy. If more of us were members of the RPS, it would add weight and resources to the fight – we could all benefit in the long run.

As well as more funding for dispensing, at levels like there used to be, there should also be increased government funding for service provision in community pharmacies to create a sustainable future for our industry. As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is showing us, pharmacists have the skills and the ability to provide more services.

I would like to see pharmacies become the first port of call for minor ailments and various other clinics. Pharmacists, if given access to summary care records, could better perform patient check-ups. This would take appointment pressures off GPs and contribute to the overall wellbeing of the UK’s healthcare ecosystem.

For this to happen though, we need more funding. Both for training courses to assist us in our constant search for professional development and for the services themselves. We would need adequate government remuneration for our labour and expertise. I see a greater focus on service provision combined with more tech-based solutions like hub-and-spoke dispensing as a way to keep pharmacy well-funded and sustainable in the long term.

Yet for change to happen, for the government to listen to us, we need to come together, discuss what path we would like to take as an industry and then make our case in a unified campaign, like the junior doctors did.

Through the RPS we could all come together to fight for the positive changes our industry needs and deserves. I encourage people to become members. United we can achieve more, as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has shown us. Together, our voices are louder.

Reece Samani is CEO of The Locum App

7 Comments

Getting Shorter, Community pharmacist

I was a strong supporter of the RPSGB for many years. I had a fairly active role in the SOS movement, and attended the EGM that is the reason the RPS exists at all now, instead of being totally subsumed into the GPhC.

As soon as the regulatory role was taken away, the RPS finally started producing the sort of work I'd always hoped it could (for example, around comunications between primary and secondary care), but it was immediately obvious that it was now toothlessly irrelevant... and so they were interesting ideas, but no more.

I paid for 2 years, but the lack of power to drive change, combined with a long series of distasteful adverts in which they effectively smeared the professionalism of anyone who didn't join (it became clear to me they were campaigning negatively as they had little or nothing positive to offer), meant that, with regret, I left.

 

As other people have posted, the RPS is not a body which has any remit to deal with funding matters - that's the PSNC/CPW, along with trade bodies such as the NPA. Pharmacists and contractors are not symonymous, for well over 100 years, and the gap is still growing.

The PDA and PDAU are the bodies which, in my belief, represent and support actual working pharmacists these days. They have completely taken the useful ground which the RPS could have occupied in the early days, but chose not to.

The GPhC, obviously, does the regulating and has no remit for either of the above roles.

As above, that leaves the RPS with little or no role besides being a historically prestigious CPD provider... basically completely pointless (outside of academia, possibly)... no one cares where your degree came from, where your clinical diploma came from, and so on, so long as you have a certificate.

 

 

I am sad to write all this, I was proud to be part of the RPSGB... but things change. 

A.S. Singh, Community pharmacist

If I remember correctly, the junior doctors strike did FA in the long term

C A, Community pharmacist

They also had the backing of doctors and the power to strike.

If pharmacy/pharmacists want to express anger over funding who is going to back us? What power does pharmacy have to take action or strike? 

Reece Samani, Community pharmacist

Thank you for your comments! I joined the RPS at university for the letters after my name, the MEP and access to the PJ. But it's more than that, and it has the potential to do even greater things. 

I've been nominated for RPS board elections this year, and if elected, I want to prove that. Pharmacy is an incredibly diverse profession, and although the PSNC has a role to play, its function is to support community pharmacy. Despite its size and value, pharmacy goes beyond that; we also need to support entrepreneurship, locum pharmacists, professional development to create new opportunities, and digital pharmacy. 

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

Most people are leaving RPS. What they do for the average pharmacist is a mystery but I'm all ears if anyone can explain. 

As for pulling together I can't see it happening anytime soon. I'm sure the medical profession has it's politics but I don't see one doctor trying to shaft another as a normal occurrence. Sadly this is the norm in community pharmacy(one professional undermining another). So I find it difficult for this disparate group to magically come together as one. 
 

 

Reece Samani, Community pharmacist

Unfortunately, it's true; when applying for the RPS board, I realised how few pharmacists are part of the RPS. I am going for election this year, and I want to change that with a fresh perspective. 

Pharmacists came together for the COVID vaccines, and the limitation to the rollout was vaccine supply. With a more extensive membership base in the RPS, we can find common ground and replicate that success. 

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

I beg to differ Sir, the RPS does not do 'a fine job'.  Some would argue it does no job at all that is of note to the wider profession.  I have left this year as the magazine has now gone totally online, after being reduced from weekly issue to monthly.  I really don't feel £200 a year is good value for money for access to a website, most of which I can obtain here or Pharmacy Magazine or CPPE for free. 

And regarding funding, this I believe is the role of the PSNC mainly.  I admire your enthusiasm but I fear pharmacists are not like junior Drs, and will not pull together. Mainly due to the competitive, commercial nature of the profession that means we are not a homogenous group like the junior Drs. 

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