I answered the phone today and an elderly voice said, “I’m phoning to check your half-day closing hours”. For a moment, I felt like I was in an episode of Dr Who, having just travelled back in time to the 1980s.
I glanced round the dispensary, but no one had big hair and shoulder pads, so I returned my attention to the caller and explained that no, we do not close early. Or close for lunch. In fact, come fire, flood or EPS failure, we don’t stop ‘til we drop.
Perhaps the question that the patient should really have asked me is: “Do you feel empowered to exercise your best judgment in the interests of patients and the public?” It’s certainly a question I asked myself as I read the ‘Professionalism Under Pressure’ article in this week’s issue of Regulate – the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) periodical that is long overdue featuring as a guest publication on Have I Got News For You.
The article was the GPhC’s reflection on those revelations from the Guardian article in April – itself brought about by a Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) survey – that NHS workers are under pressure to meet targets and that these targets are sometimes achieved through false reporting.
Neither the survey nor the article can have been a surprise to any pharmacist reading them, including those at the PDA and the GPhC. Although outside the pharmacy profession it may come as a shock that the person responsible for ensuring safe provision of the poisons prescribed by your physician does so in conditions akin to an assault course, those of us working in pharmacy know that’s been the reality for the past five or 10 years – and it’s only getting worse.
The annual inflation of prescription volume – as well as the additional stages of processing EPS scripts and accessing summary care records – means our professionalism is under pressure like never before. Meanwhile, we have a £19,000 funding cut hanging over our heads that no amount of efficiency gains – and certainly not hub-and-spoke dispensing – can address.
But unlike any other profession, we have no opportunity to say: “Enough is enough! I can’t work safely any more.” Because, rightly or wrongly, we fear that an oversupply of pharmacists means that professionalism is a price employers are not prepared – or don’t need – to pay. And the idea of companies pursuing “legitimate business interests in an ethical way”, as the GPhC puts it, is like pushing water uphill.
So, am I going to feel empowered to exercise my best judgment in the interests of patients and the public? Only when I can lock the door and shut out the patients and public.