Craig Alexander has big plans and some strong advice for trainee pharmacists. The Pre-Reg Trainee of the Year talks to Neil Trainis
Amid the turmoil of government efficiency measures and swingeing funding cuts, these are exciting times in the life of Craig Alexander.
The Pharmacy Business Pre-Reg Trainee of the Year approaches his future with a sense of anticipation rather than apprehension.
“I did my pre-reg at Manor Pharmacy and I'm locuming at the moment, since the start of May. I'm moving about from store to store. But I'd like to go to hospital pharmacy. I'm pretty young in my career. I'd like to try hospital pharmacy,” he says.
“Why hospital pharmacy? The clinical stuff and you have experienced pharmacists around you. You're in a strong team have that support. It may be a good move for me.
“It's also an opportunity to become an independent prescriber and run your own clinic. It really excites me. And you need to have those skills you developed at university.”
One might not expect to hear a pharmacist talk about the pharmacy profession with such enthusiasm, given the gloom that has engulfed it recently. If it's not the £170 million in cuts, it's hub and spoke.
If it's not hub and spoke, it's the fragmentation of the community pharmacy network. It's the proliferation of the sale of medicines online. Click and collect hell.
Craig, an affable, chatty young pharmacist, has his concerns about a variety of issues too. But he speaks with a sense of purpose instead of bitterness or regret. Where many may be losing their heads, he sees the opportunities.
“It's pretty simple. It's about your work ethic. Get your head down and work hard. Focus on your exams and pick up skills,” he insists when asked what advice he has for trainee pharmacists looking to carve out a career in a pharmacy profession that would be forgiven for feeling a little undervalued by a government eager to, not so much cut its cloth, but rip it to shreds.
“Attend seminars and events. For me, I've had opportunities to talk to Mr (Graham) Phillips (the owner of Manor Pharmacy Group). I went to his talks. You learn a lot. He's a very dynamic character.”
Graham Phillips, the one-time English Pharmacy Board member who Craig credits with helping to develop him as a pharmacist, is never afraid to voice an opinion on pharmacy's injustices. As far as the funding cuts are concerned, Craig is philosophical.
“Gosh, if look at history, the cuts look like they're going to go through. I'm very encouraged by the petition but the cuts will go through I think,” he says when asked if he thinks the petition handed to Downing Street will dissuade the Department of Health from slashing pharmacy's funding.
“At the end of the day the NHS needs to make savings. The government cut the doctors' salary. They were once untouchable but the NHS needs to make cuts.”
Manor Pharmacy gave Craig a base from which to embark on his pharmacy journey. His tutor has described him as “calm, capable and competent,” qualities that mark out the accomplished pharmacists.
Craig certainly impressed. During his training he trained as a dementia champion and provided dementia friend training in the pharmacy. It was a fulfilling experience.
“It was great. In the area of Hertfordshire where we were were based, it's a relatively ageing area. We were able to support people, use our MURs. We supported people who have this serious condition. We have to have knowledge of this disease.”
He was tireless as he learned his trade, going on to support staff development by organising and delivering weekly training meetings to the pharmacy team and helping to prepare them for the General Pharmaceutical Council inspection. Craig's influence spread to other pharmacies in the Manor Pharmacy group too where he would often be seen lending his support.
His own pre-registration exam was, by his own admission, difficult and he offers criticism of the GPhC over the way the exam was structured. But in view of the changes the regulator has made to the assessment this year, including the introduction of a framework explaining what will be tested, his criticism is tempered by a sense of reality; the GPhC is, he says, making progress.
“With the exam, there are tough types of questions that you couldn't prepare for. I don't want to be overly critical of the GPhC. You've got to do your best when you take the exam. I knew quite a lot of people who weren't happy. But it's the GPhC exam and you've got to do it,” Craig says.
“They ask complicated questions. People spend more time flicking through books and not enough time is spent on us caring for people. I think the GPhC is getting there but they need to look at that.
“They need to make sure we are clinically ready. What separates the good pharmacies is those who know who and what to monitor.
“They should listen to pharmacists and the concerns we have. They seem to be stagnant and produce the same resources every year. And they often remain quiet and don't respond to some issues.”
He has a considered view on hub and spoke dispensing, which has polarised opinion. Some subscribe to the Keith Ridge view and see it as highly efficient. Others regard it as extremely counterproductive.
“It does make it a lot more of an efficiency model but community pharmacy's place is in the community,” Craig says.
“At the end of the day it will be detrimental to patient care. That face-time we have with the patient builds support and rapport.
“If we start to pull away from that we open ourselves up to criticism.”