By Richard Evans
Over the past three months I have had the pleasure of representing the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) at the spring conferences of the three main political parties in Wales.
It never ceases to amaze me where Board membership can take you. On one evening I can find myself sat next to the Welsh health minister, Eluned Morgan, speaking to the first minister, Mark Drakeford, about all things pharmacy, and on another day I can find myself shaking hands with the chancellor of exchequer. It’s all in a day’s work, of course!
Meeting Rishi Sunak MP recently at the Welsh Conservative Party Conference was particularly interesting. I was aware that his mother had been a pharmacist and that the right honourable member of parliament for Richmond (Yorks) was a keen supporter of the profession.
This certainly made for a straight forward introduction. After a brief conversation, it was clear that even with all the competing demands in his role of chancellor of the exchequer, Sunak fully appreciated the importance of pharmacy right across the country.
It has been a great experience this year meeting members of the Senedd and members of parliament. Meeting people face-to-face after so long has been most welcomed and I can confidently say that every politician I have spoken to has been highly complementary about pharmacy.
I don’t think this is just polite conversation either. I believe that pharmacy is now in a much stronger position than it has been for many years. Politically, I believe there is a real consensus across the political parties about the value of pharmacy in improving patient care.
My conversations with members of the Senedd from Plaid Cyrmu, Welsh Labour, and the Welsh Conservative Party have given me confidence about the understanding among the parties for policy change and investment in pharmacy in Wales for the future.
For instance, Plaid Cymru Members of the Senedd, appeared to have a grip on the need for IT developments to enhance patient care. There was also an understanding and concern among Welsh Conservative Party members of the Senedd about bringing forward electronic prescribing solutions and ensuring appropriate pharmacist access to patient records.
Welsh Labour were very much in tune with these issues due to recent meetings RPS Wales had held with the health minister on these very topics. I had a warm glow when I realised that these issues were not alien to the politicians but were very much on their radars. It has also been great to acknowledge that the work of RPS in influencing the policies and manifesto’s of the main political parties in Wales had been paying dividends.
At every conference event the politicians of all political colours, demonstrated real concern for the health and wellbeing of the pharmacy team across Wales. The pandemic certainly increased pressures and workload but its impact has not been overlooked.
I was incredibly pleased to see cross party support for the wellbeing of the pharmacy workforce at a debate in the Welsh Parliament in March for instance. RPS Wales had also arranged a session with Members of the Senedd to talk about the pressures facing the profession and to highlight concerns raised in our annual wellbeing survey of RPS members. These messages were clearly making an impact.
Party conferences are a great way to meet politicians and their staff, but the work of engaging with all political parties, goes on throughout the year. Whether Government Ministers or opposition back-benchers, I always enjoy meeting with politicians.
While there may be small talk and interesting connections made, the long-lasting working relationships that are built with politicians by myself and my colleagues at RPS are vitally important in representing the profession.
Quite often this work remains unseen by the profession and sometimes I believe we need to shout louder about our achievements in the political domain. This year, for instance, we’ve met with the chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, Russell George, on several occasions as well as arranging visits with other members of the committee to hospital pharmacy sites to increase awareness of developments in secondary care.
We’ve also provided politicians with briefings to support parliamentary debates and submitted evidence to all key committee inquiries that impact on pharmacy and patient care. The profile of pharmacy and the RPS in Wales is certainly in healthy place.
I am hoping that this blog provides some insight therefore into the unseen work that helps to influence positive change for the profession in Wales.
Engaging with politicians is something that any pharmacist or technician can do of course. In fact I would encourage it. The more we can talk to our politicians about pharmacy, the better understanding there will be when we call for change at national levels.
Advocating for pharmacy is not a frightening as it may sound but it can require some advice and support. RPS can provide support for any member interested in advocacy work and the main thing is that we must keep communicating about pharmacy with politicians from all parties. After all, it’s good to talk!
Richard Evans is a locum community pharmacist in West Wales and long standing member of the RPS Wales, Welsh Pharmacy Board.