By Simon Dukes
Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee
FOR me, the genuine privilege of being the negotiator for community pharmacy in England is meeting and talking to so many dedicated people up and down the country.
Pharmacists and pharmacy teams are devoted to the welfare of their patients, and to the unique role they have in the community. At a time of national crisis, the role of community pharmacy is vital.
As GPs and hospitals are deluged with increasing numbers of people infected with Covid-19, our ‘NHS on the high street’ – our network of 11,500 community pharmacies – becomes even more crucial to society. In fact, it becomes literally the difference between life and death.
As they have since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak – and will do until the end of it – pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, dispensing staff, drivers, and the wider teams are putting their wellbeing at risk every day to keep pharmacies open, dispensing medicines and advising and treating patients.
Despite warning signs online, in the national press and in the pharmacies telling them not to, many patients displaying the symptoms of the virus still turn up seeking help. With nowhere else to turn to, frightened and frustrated patients sometimes become violent and abusive.
With no other shops on the high streets currently open, pharmacies have also now become an increased target for criminals looking for cash or drugs.
Yet despite all this, our pharmacy teams continue to serve their communities. You would have thought, wouldn’t you, that our community pharmacies would be lauded? That they would be spoken of in the same breath as our GPs, medics, nurses and paramedics? But no, not for them the recognition that comes to other clinicians. Nor the funding.
Despite financial top-ups to the health sector prior to this outbreak, the government has cut funding in real terms to community pharmacies every year since 2014 – and this is set to continue until 2024. And in the middle of this crisis, when community pharmacies are dispensing medicines to the sick, vulnerable and isolated, and providing much-needed advice and guidance to the worried well and unwell alike, the government still refuses to acknowledge their value and keeps its purse strings tightly closed.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was forthright in his budget about the government’s commitment to helping the NHS deal with the Covid-19 crisis: “Whatever extra resources our NHS needs to cope with Covid-19, it will get. Whatever it needs, whatever it costs, we stand behind our NHS.”
This is to be welcomed, and he has put aside £5 billion for this purpose. Community pharmacies across the country are facing the same pressures as their NHS colleagues, the same risks to staff health, the same unbudgeted costs – but they are private businesses contracted to the NHS, and not a penny has been put aside for them.
As the negotiator, me and my team are working to get pharmacies the financial support they need. And while they get on with the job they have been trained to do, we should value equally all our frontline healthcare staff. The selflessness, dedication, resilience and bravery of community pharmacy teams deserve our full support.