Pharmacists must be professional perfectionists and activists in the pursuit of excellence, but the reality is that mistakes and accidents occur when we are busy, under pressure, tired or distracted.
Safety, care and caution will only come if front line staff are protected appropriately and remunerated properly. Anything that affects staffing levels, increases workload pressures, or adds stress or bureaucracy is a risk to patient safety and effective management, and affects quality assurance.
This is why the latest community pharmacy funding cuts in England are a threat to the public because staffing levels will be the first to be affected at a time when patients are living longer and being turfed out of hospitals sooner, while dispensing is increasing. Cutting down the number of pharmacies is not a solution either — it is a problem. Increasing demand will not be met and technology, hailed as a panacea by the government, will only be a sticking plaster. Current tensions between non-pharmacist area managers and pharmacist managers will worsen, patients will have to expect long delays because final accuracy checks of medicines cannot be rushed. With fewer staff there will be delays on stock ordering and management, and dispensing as a whole. And this will be amplified when technology breaks down.
There is no reason why the quality aspects proposed as part of the new remuneration package could have been put in the essential tier of the community pharmacy contract without linking them to the funding cuts. It is time the Department of Health and the government stopped trying to turn community pharmacy into ‘Kwik-save’ healthcare and a cut-price horror health profession because, although we have to toe the line with austerity, cost cutting in pharmacy is like playing Russian roulette — it is a game that will cost lives and community pharmacists will get the blame as always when things go wrong.
- Sid Dajani is a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) English Pharmacy Board and Assembly. He is also a UK delegate of the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (PGEU). The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the RPS, the English Pharmacy Board, the Assembly, or the PGEU.