When I read the announcement of Lloydspharmacy closing 190 branches I thought of these words by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller from the 1940s:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
You think of the uncertainty that will be felt by 17,000 employees of the company until it’s clear where the axe will fall; the potential loss of almost 2,000 jobs and the effect on employees’ families; the patients affected by those closures – which I estimate could be in excess of 50,000.
Then you start to think about your own job, in your pharmacy, your company, your patients, and wonder who will be next. When will they come for you?
Many years ago I worked in a branch where the rain regularly penetrated the flat roof over my dispensary, and every year the company paid £100 to have it patched. One day the entire ceiling collapsed onto me. The builders said that a proper repair costing £800 would have avoided the rebuilding of £15,000, which is such simple economics. That’s what our pharmacy leaders don’t get. Every £1 they save by closing a pharmacy will cost the NHS £3 in additional expenses; as patients get a prescription instead of buying over-the-counter, or an A&E visit instead of pharmacy advice, or a hospital admission instead of an advanced service. And the NHS don’t get it because they have been misled or lied to or both, so the roof will eventually fall on their heads too.
In the 1950s this country set out to close one third of the railways, identifying 5,000 miles of track and 2,363 stations it considered redundant. Fifty years later that action is considered inept, as we spend billions to put back much of that track. This was due to closures instead of modernisation, and the same is true for the pharmacy network. We accept we can’t be paid just to dispense, but because it has been so badly advised by pharmacists high up in NHS England, the government is not prepared to spend the time and money to modernise its greatest healthcare asset – what I heard described recently as the “largest walk-in centre of the NHS”.
Everyone involved in these pharmacy cuts – introduced with the puerile myopic intention of saving money for the NHS by forcing the closure of community pharmacies through making them uneconomical – should be ashamed of themselves. Any of those who are also fellows of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society should be stripped of that honorific. They have not advanced the profession of pharmacy, they have diminished it and blighted lives of staff and patients. Shame on you all.