There are a growing number of reasons why I called on my local MP – Hilary Benn, Labour MP for Leeds Central – to contact the Department of Health on my behalf.
When it comes to the response I received from Mr Hunt, do I feel I was given a clear answer to my concerns or at least something that would reassure me? The answer to that is an emphatic no. All I read was some neo-liberal rambling with a complete lack of readable conviction.
The concerns around supervision – or potentially ‘no supervision’ as I have heard others jest – is a worrying prospect. I feel that there is more interest in developing the roles of technicians rather than us pharmacists. Hardly ever do we read how community pharmacists’ roles will be developed.
Is it any wonder the majority of pharmacists believe that there are plans for technicians to overtake pharmacists’ responsibilities for the everyday running of the pharmacy? This may essentially free up our time, but what alternative roles are going to open up for us?
I know there are roles for practice pharmacists in GP surgeries, but these positions are very limited. Will there be more spaces opening up for the rest of us? I am all for technician roles developing, so as long as they can carry the mantle of responsibility that we currently carry, and there are real job openings for us, accompanied by funded training to help us step into these new positions.
It is these types of questions that prompted me to write to my MP, to actually find out what is happening.
Feeling under-appreciated and disillusioned
Pharmacists’ credentials go unnoticed by professional bodies, fellow members of the pharmacy team, other healthcare professionals and even members of the public, which makes us feel that our skill set and qualifications are under-appreciated.
After many discussions with my peers, we have come to the same conclusion. We genuinely feel that the intense professional training that we undertake to gain the in-depth knowledge to make decisions and provide information on a variety of topics – ranging from making correct clinical interventions, to calculating correct doses, understanding and providing information on many ailments and disease states – is really downplayed.
The fact that we hold a master's degree and then have to undertake professional exams to become a community pharmacist is often forgotten, and we are seen as ‘tablet counters’ and ‘glorified shopkeepers’, rather than the qualified health professionals we are.
The reason I became a community pharmacist was so that I could be a part of the community in a genuine healthcare capacity, while connecting my natural curiosity and interest in medicines with the need to help people. The ‘prestige’ of being a community pharmacist was the icing on the cake.
But that was just shy of 15 years ago, when I made the decision to study pharmacy. Now, I feel incredibly disillusioned with being a community pharmacist, and through my discussions with others, I realise I am not the only one.
Adding strings to my bow
I am six months into my clinical diploma – which incorporates the independent prescribing qualification – at Leicester School of Pharmacy. I decided to undertake this qualification to add some extra strings to my bow, as I genuinely foresee the role of a community pharmacist slowly being diluted to near non-existence and I need to be ready for any other avenues that I could pursue.
This was the other reason I wanted a direct reply from Mr Hunt, as I wanted to know if there would be a role for me to step into if I became an independent prescriber, or would this just be an expensive investment with no real outcome of a job?
I want to know what is in store for the profession that I care about, and one that I have invested heavily in – mentally, physically and financially.
Totally in the dark
Having received Mr Hunt’s response (read the full letter here), I am still just as disillusioned as I was when I wrote the letter to Mr Benn – in fact, perhaps more confused about the future. I feel that if Mr Hunt was not willing to really listen to the medical bodies when it came to his planned changes to the NHS, and then more or less force his changes on the doctors, what chance does pharmacy have?
Things are going to change, and we are totally in the dark.
I will be contacting my MP again this week, with what I think about Mr Hunt’s letter. I also urge many other pharmacists to write to their MPs, so that our concerns can make it to parliament.
It sounds like a long shot, but we need work together and go through this channel to make our concerns collectively heard – before it’s too late.
Ubaid Ur-Rehman is a locum pharmacist based in Leeds