International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde (C) speaks flanked by Deputy Director Philip Gerson (L) and Communications Director Gerry Rice (R) at a press conference to mark the publication of the preliminary conclusions of the IMFs 2017 annual review of the UK's economy at the Treasury in central London on December 20, 2017. Britain's tepid growth can improve along with other advanced economies should a positive trade deal over Brexit be agreed with the European Union, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said on December 20. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Stefan Rousseau (Photo credit should read STEFAN ROUSSEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

The political and PR challenge for pharmacy is convincing institutions like the International Monetary Fund that they are wrong, says Peter Kelly

 

If you were Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and you were considering reforms for a bankrupt country such as Greece, which of the following would you feel was in most urgent need of reform:

(a) The irresponsible, corrupt and frankly criminal financial sector.

(b) The accountants and lawyers of the thriving tax avoidance sector.

(c) The small family-owned pharmacies.

 

That’s right you guessed it – the pharmacies that played no part in bankrupting Greece had to be reformed first. This is the medical equivalent of looking at a patient with lung cancer and deciding to operate on their colon.

And when the patient asks if it is still ok to smoke, telling them ‘yeah sure, everything will be fine when we remove half your cancer-free colon.’

In a fascinating book by Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister – ‘Adults in the Room – My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment’ – there is an extraordinary passage where Yanis invites Christine Lagarde to a serious discussion about possible reforms for the Greek economy and the first area she wants to discuss is pharmacies.

She is then astonished that Yanis has the gall to defend pharmacies.People outside pharmacy might find this passage in the book extremely surprising but pharmacists in the UK and Ireland will not.

Since the financial meltdown of 2008, pharmacy sectors in the UK and Ireland have been attacked by the powers that be with such consistency you would be forgiven for thinking that pharmacies had caused the crash.

Pharmacy has a major PR problem. The political establishments’ view of pharmacy is this; pharmacy takes much more than it gives.The government gives pharmacy massive amounts of money and gets very little for it.

Most of the money the pharmacy sector receives comes from government, therefore pharmacy is really just an extension of government – as an extension of government it would be much easier to deal with one or two large organisations than lots of little ones.

This perception is not based on reality or evidence but that doesn’t matter because in politics, perception is more important than reality. The political and PR challenge for pharmacy is convincing institutions like the IMF that they are wrong.

This will be extremely hard to do and won’t be achieved by presenting evidence. We will need to be more creative and be under no illusions this will be a real David and Goliath battle. The pharmacy profession needs to invest seriously in sophisticated PR and lobbying.

Peter Kelly is a community pharmacist based in London.

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