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'Why I’m overjoyed major pharmacy organisations are working together'

"Please let this be the start of a collaboration to support community pharmacy's survival"

Representatives of pharmacy professionals, independents and multiples joining together to sign a letter to the NHS is cause for celebration, says David Gallier-Harris

It was with a sense of joy that I learned from the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) last week that the chief executives of five national pharmacy organisations are offering support for an ‘NHS assembly’ – “a new stakeholder forum being created to oversee progress on developing long-term plans for the NHS”.

A glance through the announcement shows a desire from community pharmacy organisations – the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, the Company Chemists’ Association, the National Pharmacy Association, PSNC and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society – to actively engage with NHS England.

It also draws attention to the value of community pharmacies, and the fantastic work we already do to maintain patient safety and deliver expert pharmaceutical care to patients – close to home, in the community. It shows a collective will to promote community pharmacy as a central pillar of the solution to the NHS's woes.

In their letter, the chief executives of the organisations talk of promoting a sustainable NHS, with pharmacies easing the pressure on overstretched GPs and hospital services. It is exactly where, in my opinion, we need to be heading – and as a frontline community pharmacist, it is great to hear that the bosses think this too.

How we can achieve this with such financial stress, and the threat of closure hanging over much of community pharmacy, is a conundrum. But it is one that needs sorting, and sorting now. Collaboration is the key.

The biggest thing I take from this is that I've now read a letter to NHS executives, signed by organisations representing the majority of pharmacy owners and pharmacists. Such collaboration is quite simply epic. We need more of this.

Please let this be the start of a collaboration to support the only real solution to community pharmacy's survival – a service-based element for the community pharmacy contractual framework. NHS England needs to receive the message loud and clear that we, pharmacy organisations and professionals, stand together for our patients and the sector.

David Gallier-Harris is a pharmacy manager for a large multiple in the West Midlands, and a member of the government’s board to “rebalance” medicines legislation and pharmacy regulation


Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

I am sure the NHS will see this for what it is, an attempt by contractors to extract more money from the taxpayer. Mr Gallier-Harris talks about pharmacy’s survival (as though contractors are not making enough). I wish to point out that pharmacists are already hard pressed, until the contractors recognise their needs, the revival of pharmacy is in doubt. 

SIMON MEDLEY, Community pharmacist

Some contractors are pharmacists - we’re not all large vertically integrated  behemoths-and we’re feeling the pain tyvm

Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

Guys, there was a paradigm shift in pharmacy since I qualified in 1979. As you well know, when the RPSGB was formed, all members were proprietory pharmacists, then Boots and the other multiples came in and constructed the current situation, we now have non-pharmacists owning the vast majority of pharmacies, and there are many more employee pharmacists than  proprietory pharmacists. I think it was in the late 60's or early 70's that employee pharmacists became a majority on the register. People like me became just a 'cost item', and as I see it, pharmacists wages have not increased since the 80's, and crashed when the new schools started producing M,Pharms. Contractors then started their own wholesalers or joined buying groups to further increase their profits which provoked and caused the clawback regime. We now have a situation when profits in pharmacy are largely taken by non-pharmacists, and employee pharmacists are marginalised to an item on the P+L which needs to be controlled. I simply ask the question, will pharmacy be better served by contractors or pharmacists? When contractor organisations  are forming 'assemblies' to bargain with the NHS, is that good for the taxpayer, pharmacists, pharmacy or just contractors?

Peter Sainsburys, Community pharmacist

Lovely to see Mr Johal admitting that UK pharmacists are hard-pressed, instead of saying that he could check 1000 items in under an hour whilst standing on his head and playing a harmonica.

Pharmacy in the UK has become more and more sidelined by the government because nobody ever says anything, because the people who have the power to do so simply don't care.

Someone, somewhere, with a bit of actual clout, would appear to have a plan to eliminate UK pharmacies altogether, and move towards fully autonomous internet pharmacies providing everything by post. And I can't blame them, because it would certainly save a huge amount of money.

So when I read stories about certain companies buying up these totally useless pharmacies, it gives me a sense of happiness that such greedy companies are going to live to regret it. There's more to life than money.

Dave Downham, Manager

Pharmacists will be even more hard pressed if contractors close/see their income reduced. There won't be many contractors thinking "business getting a bit tricky - let's give everyone a pay rise".

Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

I am not a socialist Dave, but as I have observed in general, trickle down economics have never worked due to a 5 letter word "greed".

Dave Downham, Manager

You sound fairly red to me...

Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

Hehe, thanks for the label Dave, I am fairly conflicted politically :-( , but wasn't Margaret Thatcher who once said "Never underestimate people's greed" or words to that effect?

Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

Well, may I give this ‘pharmacy assembly” its proper name, it is a Contractors Whinging Shop. These are all contractor organisations + RPS (which is hoping one day the multiples will pay their employees’ fees). I think for it to be a truly representative assembly employee pharmacists should also be included, eg the PDA. 

Mr Gallier-Harris, in the new Asda/Sainsburys merged entity, Mike Coupe will be the CEO and he is the guy who sold all their instore pharmacies. Good luck to you.

Peter Sainsburys, Community pharmacist

If you were an employer, would you pay the RPS fees for your pharmacists? No you would not, and I would hope you would tell them why too!

Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

Peter, when the RPSGB split into the RPS and GPhC, the RPS did host events for the superintendents of the major multiples, and asked what would it take for them to pay the RPS fees for their employees. My superintendent attended those meetings, he told me he said 'no' to the RPS, and knowing him, I am sure he wasn't too shy to tell them why. The GPhC on the other hand, believed in regulation through the superintendents (I forgot the name of the GPhC policy guy who told me that in one of their road shows), it is a very effective disciplinary department and a useful tool to manage unwanted pharmacists out of the business while avoiding the industrial tribunals.

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

Some of the largest multiples still pay half of their employees RPS fees.

An altruistic gesture? A support for the profession? Far more likely that it is a hard-nosed business investment to ensure the RPS does not say or do anything that may adversely affect the commercial interests of said multiples. The RPS will be acutely aware that this revenue stream will dry up if they do speak out hence their silence on many contentious issues in CP.

Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

So right Clive, the RPSGB in its final years (Hemant Patel to note) hiked the fees to protect their pensions, that was at a time pharmacists wages were falling, then they courted the multiples and offered 'services' in an attempt to increase subscriptions; can I trust them to be open and honest with pharmacists?

Now, they are doing their best to draw a distinction between RPS and non-RPS pharmacists in certain PGDs - it is clear to me that they work for their own financial interest, certainly not my 'professional leadership body'. I will never be a member.

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