Some organisations will go to any length to get publicity and change public opinion. People chain themselves to trees or climb electricity pylons dressed as superheroes – but we took the more dignified approach of a petition.
I've always been sceptical of petitions, having watched patients complete the exemption declaration and knowing that many people just sign whatever's put in front of them. But the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) petition excelled as both a PR exercise and motivational tool. Every time someone has signed with enthusiasm and then expressed how valuable our service is to the community, I've seen our counter staff swell with a little bit of pride.
Of course, the turn-out of MPs at the parliamentary event says everything about the message behind the biggest ever healthcare petition – that 1.8 million is an awful lot of votes to court. It would be nice to think that as well as 'Mondeo Man' and 'Worcester Woman', politicians now see the need to appeal to 'Chemist Customer'.
And just as Worcester Woman is further broken down into young mum, working wife and retired pensioner, Chemist Customer is so many people.
The 'Professional Parents' have researched every children's condition and treatment and insist on knowing every excipient in the prescribed item. After one request for a cough mixture with no drugs, no colouring, no alcohols, and no sugar or artificial sweetener, it was all I could do not to run to the sink and fill a 200ml bottle with water. Except that it would have contained fluoride.
'Ga-Ga Granny' (or Grandad) is always jolly and has a friendly greeting for you, but has no concept of how repeat prescriptions work and is forever running out of their medication. They're easy to talk into a medicines use review (MUR), but not easy to keep on topic or get out of the consultation room. Not on much medication, but when they pass away, their relatives come in with bags of drugs dating back to the previous century.
'Hippy Homeopath' is happy to fill their lungs with nicotine – and, in the past, their veins with a variety of opiates – but paranoid about prescribed medication because it's made by Big Pharma. He or she swears by aromatherapy, flower remedies and any herbal medicines, as they're “natural”. Strangely, such niceties are abandoned when it comes to HRT – as long as it's not equine.
The 'Conscientious Carer' spends more time in the pharmacy than we do. They are forever fighting with surgeries for prescriptions, district nurses for attendance, and often the relative they are caring for. They have a better understanding of stoma appliances than anyone outside of the urology department, and are always in a hurry because they can't be out of the house for too long.
So don’t despair when one of these demographics enters your pharmacy. Just remember that they're voters with the power to influence your MP – without our needing to chain ourselves to anything!