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