On 12 January 2020, Matt Hancock, the health and social care secretary, wrote on Twitter:
NEWS: We’re introducing Pharmacy First — so like in other countries your pharmacist can do far more to help with minor ailments.
Good for patients — good for the NHS https://t.co/96z8UiK12G
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock), 12 January 2020
On the same day, a news story published by the Department of Health and Social Care reported that, through the community pharmacy consultation service, “people with minor illnesses or who need medicine urgently have been referred to local pharmacies, relieving pressure on doctors”.
These communications send the message that the pharmacist is there purely to relieve “pressure on doctors”, rather than the pharmacist being an expert in medication and well placed to treat patients with minor ailments and chronic conditions.
Many of the tweets in response to Matt Hancock’s tweet were derogatory towards pharmacists, such as: “You may as well see a homeopath” and “I’ll be going to my GP with my medical problems, not my pharmacist.”
When a contestant on ITV’s dating show Love Island 2019 introduced herself as a scientist, another contestant said “oh, I’m a pharmacist!” Twitter users responded with comments such as: “You work in Boots, babe” and “A scientist and pharmacist are not on the same level”. These comments were ‘liked’ hundreds of times.
Then, on 17 February 2020, ITV breakfast show This Morning’s co-presenter Ruth Langsford asked journalist Sam Delaney about new clinical guidance that suggested the pharmacist should advise patients around weight loss. Delaney said patients could end up “being called ‘fat’ by a chemist who I think society generally — rightly or wrongly — don’t [sic] have must respect for anyway because we think that they’re pretend doctors.”
Delaney’s comments towards pharmacists on one of the most popular UK daytime TV shows were disparaging.
All of these incidents raise a pertinent question — do these examples represent how pharmacists are perceived by the general public?
As the third biggest healthcare profession in the UK, pharmacy is present across multiple sectors and plays an important role. While the role of the pharmacist is successfully being expanded, it would be extremely naive to ignore these comments.
The most important part of any healthcare service is the patient. If the patient is unsure of what they should use the service for — or worse, do not have faith in a service or healthcare professional — how can it be a success?
This is not just a ‘pharmacy problem’. We must collaborate with other healthcare professionals, social media outlets, broadcasting corporations and the government if we are to truly help in “relieving pressure on doctors” and dispelling the misconception of the pharmacist’s role.
Reem El-Sharkawi, GP pharmacist, Bay Network Cluster, Swansea Bay University Health Board, Swansea
Lamah El-Sharkawi, GP partner, Uplands and Mumbles Surgery, Swansea