“Everyone else in this hall is asking for something, but we are giving something,” National Pharmacy Association (NPA) director of parliamentary affairs Chris Ford told me when I arrived at the Conservative conference in Manchester earlier this month. The NPA’s stand certainly stood out against others, which either seemed to peddle tailored shirts and artisan chocolate, or ask delegates for charity donations.
This conference was always going to be the toughest to crack for the NPA, considering the Tories are the party who orchestrated the pharmacy cuts. However, there was a consistent flow of councillors and party members queueing to get their blood pressure checked. Most seemed interested – even surprised – that this service is already being provided in community pharmacies in certain areas around the country.
One councillor proclaimed loudly that pharmacists “should do cholesterol checks too”. I later saw her in the crowd at the NPA’s fringe event – suggesting the appetite to learn more about the sector was clearly there.
It was disappointing not to recognise more MPs in attendance, but perhaps this was inevitable as key supporters of pharmacy, such as MP for St Austell and Newquay, Steve Double, were absent. With Jeremy Hunt’s speech focused on other parts of the NHS, the main pharmacy debate was inevitably in the fringe event.
After hearing MP for Hitchin and Harpenden Bim Afolami urge any pharmacists in the audience to contact their MP to make a strong financial case for the sector, another comment from the audience that stood out was from a GP trainee. In terms of pharmacists doing more to relieve pressure on GPs, “I don’t understand what the obstacles are?” he questioned.
“In hospitals, pharmacists are much more embedded in the clinical team. Going into general practice, what you see is very different – the pharmacist is much more separate from the process,” he told the room.
The trainee – who is also a Tory councillor – said he had witnessed “little discussion” about community pharmacy, and he was “surprised” commissioners are not discussing it more.
This reiterated to me that it is really important that community pharmacists contact and meet your local MP – getting your voice heard in all local working groups is crucial. Imagine if there was a pharmacist represented on every local clinical commissioning group (CCG) board, or other professional working groups – councillors would no longer be surprised the sector can do blood pressure checks, as well as other clinical services.
I left the conference thinking that if the attitude of MPs towards pharmacy mirrored that of the activists, half the battle would be won. So ask for a seat at the table and show them that community pharmacy has the answers.