The 2017 Pharmacy Business Awards shone the spotlight on community pharmacy before the minister responsible for the sector. Pharmacy Business editor Neil Trainis was there to see it unfold….


Amid the gloom of government frugality and ignorance, the Pharmacy Business Awards once again cast its light to reveal the inspiration of community pharmacy.

The annual event, held at the Intercontinental London – the O2 for the second successive year, allowed pharmacists and their teams who spend their days and weeks changing the lives of local communities across the UK, a moment in the spotlight before an audience of pharmacy, healthcare and ministerial luminaries.

As the awards were being handed down, 12 in total in homage to the way community pharmacy ameliorates the health of people, it was not particularly necessary to try and read the thoughts of those well versed in the profession, individuals such as former Pharmacy Voice chief executive Rob Darracott or one-time Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain president Hemant Patel who watched on with interest.

They know what community pharmacy does and what it could do in years to come with proper resources. And they know only too well the barriers preventing further progress.

Yet one wondered what the recently appointed minister with responsibility for pharmacy at the Department of Health thought of it all as the Pharmacy Business Awards paid tribute to pharmacists and their teams who had made great strides in areas such as public health, innovation and customer care.

“Community pharmacists are at the heart of communities, where we live, work and travel, providing vital services for individuals seeking health advice alongside picking up prescriptions or purchasing over the counter health-related products,” Steve Brine said giving the distinct impression he was on some sort of charm offensive. We had been here before.

“In England there are around 1.2 million visits per day to a pharmacy for health-related reasons,” he went on. “It is vital that we make the most of these contacts and the relationships that pharmacy teams have built with their community to improve health.”

One wondered if he really did believe all of that or whether has was merely toeing the party line, saying what needed to be said rather than speaking from his heart. The Conservatives’ cuts to pharmacy’s funding, which is being appealed, made it hard to know.

If the Tories really believed in pharmacy’s socio-healthcare value, why did they decide to try and decimate it by slashing its budget by £320 million over two years? Brine looked on as pharmacist after pharmacist, pharmacy team member after team member, went up to collect richly deserved awards.

Cadham Pharmacy in Fife was named Pharmacy Business of the Year after catching the eye of the judges. Its health-crazy pharmacist Bernadette Brown oversaw the pharmacy’s evolution to health centre status and transformed the way people access its services.

Cadham has no over-the-counter stock on the shelves. Instead patients interact with virtual screens to select their product before presenting it at the till point for collection, enabling the pharmacy’s team to hold conversations with every customer about their purchases. Innovative, resourceful, brilliant.

Day Lewis Pharmacy in Chelmsford won the Community Award for its excellent work in improving the health and wellbeing of its local community, the Customer Care Award went to Warman-Freed Pharmacy in London and Bina Patel from Kalsons Chemist in Essex was named Public Health Pharmacist of the Year.

Pharmacy Team of the Year went to Reid’s Pharmacy in London, Said Kunduzi was named Young Pharmacist of the Year, Hogdson Pharmacy in Kent won the Health and Beauty Pharmacy Award and Kirby Pharmacy in London was named Natural Healthcare Pharmacy of the Year.

Bedminster Pharmacy in Bristol saw off some excellent contenders to win the Innovation Award while Elena Falcone, who plies her trade at Reid’s Pharmacy in London, was named Pharmacy Assistant of the Year.

Jhoots Pharmacy picked up the Pharmacy Chain of the Year award and Team Pre-Reg won the Enterprise Award.

There were also accolades for National Pharmacy Association chairman Ian Strachan who picked up the Editor’s Award while outgoing Numark managing director John D’Arcy collected the Carl Attewell Memorial Award.

Not that Brine restricted himself to shallow platitudes about community pharmacy. There were even promises to develop and cultivate it.

“We also aim to reduce the burden on urgent care by increasing referrals to pharmacy from NHS 111,” he said.

“Exploratory work by NHS England indicates that a far greater number of patients could be appropriately managed through referral to pharmacists for conditions such as rashes, constipation, diarrhoea, sore eye, mouth ulcers, failed contraception and for the supply of urgently needed medicines, rather than being referred for an urgent GP appointment. NHS England will be testing this model over the next few months in the North East.

“If successful, this scheme will help further use pharmacists’ clinical skills and expertise, as NHS practitioners, and ensure that they play an active part in caring for patients in the most appropriate clinical setting.”

He went on. “We are committed to NHS England evaluating the NHS Urgent Medicine Supply Advanced Service (NUMSAS) pilot to understand its effectiveness. As of September 18, 2,430 pharmacies have registered to provide NUMSAS and the proportion of calls to NHS 111 for urgent medicines which are fully managed by community pharmacy is increasing steadily thanks to everyone’s efforts.”

When Brine turned to the government’s quality payments scheme it felt as if he was patting the backs of his fellow Tory budget-cutters.

“Providing high quality NHS services should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. As part of the community pharmacy settlement for 2016-18 the government introduced the quality payments scheme, for the first time to incentivise quality.

“There has been excellent engagement with the scheme with 11,094, which is over 90%, of NHS pharmacies in England taking part and over £31 million has been paid to contractors for the April review point on 30th June 2017.”

He tackled the long-standing, frustratingly draining but fundamentally important issue of decriminalisation by trying to infuse some hope into the hearts of pharmacists.

“This delay is frustrating but I am pleased to confirm that the community pharmacy dispensing error order has been agreed across government and we are working to lay this before parliament as soon as possible.

“I am similarly committed to commencing consultation on an equivalent set of provisions for hospital pharmacy professionals.”

Dare he venture near the hedge of thorns that is pharmacy technicians overseeing the supply of medicines? Not only did he do that, he insisted he was “disappointed by the recent media coverage around the role of pharmacy technicians.”

This, of course, was in the wake of leaked documents which revealed plans to allow registered pharmacy professionals including technicians to oversee the supply of prescription medicines to patients. Plans which have apparently been embraced by the rebalancing medicines legislation and pharmacy regulation programme board.

“This is a complex and emotive issue, which requires careful consideration. The release of partial discussions is not helpful and can cause unnecessary worry,” Brine said before attempting to allay concerns about the rebalancing board’s intentions.

“To echo comments already made by Jeremy Hunt and others, the rebalancing programme board, whose job it is to advise ministers and the devolved administrations, does not have any firm proposals.

“The board is continuing to consider the role of registered pharmacy technicians and will consult wider with all pharmacy stakeholders, including many of you in this room, before it settles on a firm set of proposals.

“Only when the board have firm proposals will these be sent to me and my ministerial colleagues for consideration.”

Shailesh Solanki, the executive editor of Pharmacy Business, pulled no punches when it came to the Conservatives’ austerity programme.

“Last year the government forced through yet another damaging cut to pharmacy funding amounting to £170 million. And with further cuts next year, pharmacy faces a £320 million cut to its funding over two years,” he said, matter-of-factly and depressingly.

“Add to this the clawback of £180 million in Category M funding announced in July and community pharmacy is being squeezed to a point where it is difficult if not impossible to function.

“The cuts have seriously damaged confidence and investment in the sector, imperilling the future of one of our great healthcare networks. Whilst pharmacists have had to come to terms with these harsh cuts, they flew in the face of conventional wisdom and did not stand up to robust analysis.

“They also revealed an alarming lack of understanding among both civil servants and politicians on what pharmacy does for local communities. Pharmacists don’t just sell sandwiches and shampoo. And they don’t make excess profits from selling toothpaste.”

He called for a national minor ailments service to mirror the ones in Scotland and Wales. The pharmacists’ in the room must have thought ‘we’ve heard this before.’

“Minor ailment schemes where ever commissioned in pharmacy have been an outstanding success. And while both Scotland and Wales have a national scheme, England’s record is inconsistent and sporadic at best,” Solanki said.

“According to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society common ailments cost the NHS an extra £1.1 billion a year when patients are treated in emergency departments or GP surgeries. And when you consider that over 20% of all GP consultations are for minor ailments, it makes absolute sense to treat these patients in community pharmacy.”

The only thing that seemed to make sense by the end of the evening was the community pharmacy effect. Its effect on patients. Its effect on overburdened GPs and hospital emergency departments.

And, with proper resources, its impact on an NHS which is destined to spend the next few years struggling against a tsunami of patient demand.