In May 2015, I wrote to The Pharmaceutical Journal proposing that the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) should hold a ‘Five Year Forward View’ conference to showcase how innovation in community pharmacy could deliver for the NHS.
I pointed out that the Royal College of General Practitioners had done a fantastic job making the case for increased investment in general practice. The RPS, in its professional leadership role, is ideally placed to highlight and synergise best practice in community pharmacy, and help assure a future for the sector and benefits for patients. The RPS did nothing.
In May 2017, I wrote again to express my disappointment with the RPS’s apparent obsession with the GP-pharmacist agenda, not because I oppose the initiative, but because of the way it is being rolled out at the expense of community pharmacy. I pointed out that I had searched the homepage of the new RPS website, in vain, for any reference to the community pharmacy funding cuts.
Then, as now, the media was full of NHS stories about nurses, patients and GPs (but community pharmacy is scarcely mentioned), so I searched the @rpharms Twitter feed — again, in vain — for any recent mention of the cuts. I drew a blank.
The RPS continued to do nothing.
While I accept that the RPS has a different role from the Pharmacists’ Defence Association or the National Pharmacy Association, for example, it certainly has an obligation to speak out when national health policy is damaging the profession and the interests of patients. Current government policy is to bring about the closure of up to 3,000 local pharmacies by means of indiscriminate financial attrition. The Government has admitted that it does not know which pharmacies will close, and when questioned about it, Keith Ridge, the chief pharmaceutical officer, responded that “the market will decide”. The entire network is being deliberately placed under an intolerable strain in order to force closures with no regard to patient safety or pharmacists’ wellbeing. Surely the RPS has a legitimate role here, if not a moral obligation to act, but it stands silent.
The NHS is in crisis. Community pharmacy faces an existential threat. Patient safety is compromised, and yet, the RPS is focused on an irrelevant handwashing campaign?
I have to ask: has the RPS washed its hands of community pharmacy?
Graham Phillips, member, Royal Pharmaceutical Society
As a community pharmacist, I recognise and appreciate how difficult the funding cuts have been for both business owners and the wider profession. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has always opposed these cuts and continues to do so. The uncertainty about jobs, reductions in support staff and the impact on services to patients is something I can relate to directly.
I would like to assure you that the RPS English Pharmacy Board, which includes colleagues such as locums like me, community pharmacist employees and business owners, to ensure that community pharmacy is a very active part of our programme.
Far from washing our hands of community pharmacy we, alongside other organisations, have been successful in campaigning for investment in community pharmacy to allow access to patient care records. Summary Care Record access is a great first step in ensuring community pharmacy is fully integrated into the wider NHS.
This is just a first step. There is no doubt that much, much more needs to be done to enable community pharmacists do more for patients and the public.
We have made very clear to Steve Brine MP, pharmacy minister, that we expect more focus on investment in improving patient care through community pharmacy.
We have been clear that the NHS England Pharmacy Integration Fund needs to enable pharmacists working in the community sector to benefit from, for example, training in prescribing and an NHS-backed patient-facing TV campaign promoting the role of the pharmacist. Both are now coming to fruition.
We are also pleased to see that the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee is now looking to reform the community pharmacy contractual framework to focus on service delivery — something we have argued would reward pharmacists who offer patient centred services, such as those provided by you.
We are, I believe, showing our commitment to community pharmacy with these actions. As always, I would welcome further conversation with Graham and all members about what more we could do; pulling together, and recognising that there are many different ways of achieving an end, are more productive than a lot of people, each with their own view of Nirvana, shouting from the sidelines.
Chair, RPS English Pharmacy Board