I had a letter arrive at the pharmacy this week asking if we wanted to sell our business. This happens about once a month, but this letter differed from the usual approach.
Normally it’s a pharmacy sales agent saying something like, “You’ve spent years building your pharmacy so we’ll get you the best price – provided you get rid of half your staff before you hand over the keys”.
Or occasionally there’s the letter from the CEO of a small chain who writes personally to say, “You’ve spent years building your pharmacy so we’ll carry on your legacy – and wait until you’ve handed over the keys before we get rid of half your staff”.
But now this week’s letter effectively said: “Thinking of selling? Why not? Haven’t you heard the government is going to shut you down? Don’t wait, sell now while you still can! Run, run for the hills!”
This seems to sum up the understandable feeling among some owners – and it is that feeling of uncertainty that is most damaging. It stops investment in the business, recruitment and development of staff, and engagement with new services.
It’s the same when a company goes through restructuring, which I’ve experienced with a pharmacy company and with the primary care trust (PCT). First come the rumours of restructuring and everyone speculates who’s going to be made redundant or demoted or – in the case of pharmacy cuts – closed down.
The rumours are strongly denied by those in charge until, after three to six months, they’re forced to admit that change is coming and announce another three- or six-month “consultation period” – the most pointless and meaningless exercise known to man – until at the end of this time comes confirmation of who has survived. For now.
In the meantime, little productive work is achieved, knowledge is lost as the experienced people take early retirement, and the rising stars quickly and easily find work elsewhere.
So now everything takes on a new meaning, such as the patient who comes in with an urgent script at 6.15pm saying, “Thank God you’re still open!” and the elderly patient who says, “What would I do if you weren’t here?” after you sort out their medication.
We’ve survived the NHS reorganisation and we’ve weathered the storm of 100-hour contracts. We’ve lived to see pharmacists as independent prescribers and a new advanced service for flu vaccination. We’ve entered a world of healthy living pharmacies and GP practice pharmacists.
Now that world is being broken apart and the longer we are faced with this uncertainty, the more we risk losing all the advances made in the profession.
So if this business of pharmacy cuts isn’t addressed, what I fear is not that it will be the end of pharmacy – it won’t even be the beginning of the end – but that it will be the end of an emerging renaissance for the profession.