Mark Lyonette at the Sigma Pharmaceuticals conference

National Pharmacy Assocatian (NPA) chief executive Mark Lyonette admitted it is a ‘difficult time to join community pharmacy’ but was confident he and his organisation would get their members through the ‘fairly big storm’.

Apart from having to deal with massive funding cuts, community pharmacists also have deal with other issues such as the implementation of Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) and the NHS demanding more and more from them without a guarantee in increased incentives or revenues.

Speaking at the Sigma Pharmaceuticals conference in Muscat, Oman today, Lyonette, who has been in his position since June last year, said: “I am hugely privileged to be the new chief executive of the NPA. The NPA is a great membership body with a proud history.

“That said I am very conscious of this is a very difficult time for anyone to arrive within community pharmacy, particularly when there has been such big funding challenges.

“Despite that, maybe even on a good day because of that, I am really looking forward to this year and helping our members through it, to find our way through what seems like a fairly big storm and to help community pharmacy evolve and to keep meeting our members needs.”

Lyonette arrived at the NPA from the Association of British Credit Unions (ABCUL) where he spent 21 years, 12 of which as chief executive and he sees similarities between the two sectors.

“Credit Unions and community pharmacy, there are some similarities which might not be obvious. Firstly, both are undervalued resource. When I first joined the credit union they were not recognised as a the global force they are now. Credit unions are huge around the world. I think community pharmacy is a bit like that. Even in my short time so far I can see so much potential within community pharmacy for both the health service, the health of the population itself and, particularly in England, we are still looking for the support to demonstrate that at scale.

“And secondly, most importantly, we are both trying, and at times, struggling with big periods of change. For credit unions that was finding a successful model, embracing digital delivery to meet changing customer expectations. For community pharmacy of course there are many elements of change and they all seem to be coming together at once.

“There are challenges of today, dispensing at a loss, not knowing what you are going to receive as income day-to-day, new technologies arriving all the time, often before we have even caught up with the last technology and linked to this, there are new players looking to disrupt our business model or at least take profitable elements from that mode.

“Of course one of the recent changes is with the NHS seeing a growing role for pharmacists but potentially those pharmacists, and sometimes exclusively, operating outside of community pharmacies.”

The NHS 10-year plan announced a greater role for pharmacists in their ‘prevention is better than cure’ strategy which said there will be 22,000 healthcare professions employed to work in primary care networks, including an estimated 6,000 clinical pharmacists to work in places such as GP surgeries.

Lyonette admits it’s worrying that there wasn’t much mention of community pharmacy in the 10-year-plan and that these clinical pharmacists would be taken from the existing workforce. But stressed that there were still plenty of opportunities for community pharmacists and they need to continue to show the NHS what they can do.

He said: “At  the moment, because of Brexit, we can’t start negotiations with the government for the pharmacy contract and there is no clarity of vision for the future.

“However, we are pushing alongside PSNC, for a five year deal just like the GPs that will give security and opportunities for community pharmacists.

“We need to concentrate on things we do already like the Digital Minor Illness Referral Service (DMIRS). I know DMIRS is not the most exciting thing and won’t pay the bills but we need to show the NHS we can do this well so we can get other services commissioned to us.

“Stay close to the customer. What’s their needs? What do they need to buy? Help with urgent care, do it brilliantly. We need to continue to show what pharmacy does well.”

NPA chairman Nitin Sodha echoed Lyonette’s words, insisting it was up to community pharmacy to ensure their future is secure.

He said: “For most independent pharmacists it’s a challenging time and that’s putting it mildly. We have got a difficult funding situation, frustrating medicines shortages, inflated prices and hefty new regulations like FMD and GDPR. Our surveys with members shows that many independent pharmacies are struggling to keep their heads above water.

“Pharmacy are the only clinical profession that provides person-centred pharmaceutical care. Pharmacists are trusted professionals and community pharmacists provide excellent service that patients need and value. This underpins my confidence of a commercially viable, professionally rewarding future for community pharmacy. Along the way we will have to have a shared understanding of using technology in the sector to achieve efficiency and integrated care without losing the human touch of healthcare.

“We also need to improve pharmacy engagement and collaboration at the local level, where so many key decisions are now made. Pharmacy must not be frightened of change but lets lead the changes and shape the future rather than the future take us by surprise and overwhelm us. At the same time, we must recognise the importance of the NHS as our key customer and listen carefully to what they want from us.”

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