“I feel really stupid,” said Fiona.
She’s not, of course, because Fiona is a 50-year-old ex-nursery school assistant who came to us a couple of years ago and is currently training as an accredited dispensing assistant. However, we’ve got to the bit that all trainee dispensary assistants and pharmacy technicians love – the calculations.
“I’ve not dealt with these before,” continues Fiona, as we start to negotiate kg, mg, mcg and other units that those of us with a scientific bent take for granted. But once we start putting it into more familiar terms, she finds it begins to make sense. “Think about last night,” I suggest. “Your cheese was bought in 200g packs and you drink prosecco in a 175ml glass…” And so we continue to practice units of mass and volume by reference to a good night at her local wine bar.
It’s easy to take for granted what is commonplace to us as pharmacists and technicians. For example, when counselling patients about administering penicillin ‘ante cibum’, I used to say, “an hour before food”, until so many people had replied, “But I don’t eat four times a day!” that I was forced to reword the phrasing of my advice.
I thought of this listening to a BBC radio programme that featured a reporter’s experience of time in different parts of the NHS, and how his experience was of remarkable compassion, dedication and commitment to quality from the staff. He then proceeded to talk with politicians about the NHS, and couldn’t believe the ignorance and naivety displayed by those responsible for prioritising, funding and organising our health service. Nowhere is this truer than in community pharmacy.
We’re familiar with the statistics: 1.6 million visits to a pharmacy every day makes us the most accessible healthcare professional, with the greatest and most frequent contact with patients in need of care, and a public in need of health advice. Every £1 spent on community pharmacy services saves the nation £3 in health and social care. And patients and the public universally trust and respect their pharmacy team over almost all other healthcare professionals.
I don’t think our politicians are wilfully evil or wholly corrupt. I genuinely believe that they are well-meaning, well-educated men and women who went into politics to improve the society around them. So the reason the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) continues to take the approach it does to pharmacy services and contractual remuneration must be that as predominantly healthy, middle-aged, advantaged people, they have rarely needed to experience the services we provide primarily for the sick, the young, the elderly and the disadvantaged.
In addition, politicians have been poorly advised by their staff and by some senior pharmacists in the DH. It's about time they became properly familiar with our contribution, otherwise it is they who deserve to feel really stupid.
A long-running C+D contributor, the identity of Xrayser remains a mystery, but his irreverent views are known by all. Tweet him @Xrayser