“The government says it wants to create a service in pharmacy and in healthcare that is responsive to patient needs and delivers better patient outcomes. But this consultation process… won’t do that. In fact, it will undermine it,” said Claire Ward. chair of Pharmacy Voice, as she closed the annual Sigma conference in February 2016.
Ward first attended Sigma conferences as the company’s local MP. “At that time, I worked with them on the control of entry campaign so the potential closure of pharmacies then was something we were involved in,” she explains.
Fast forward seven years and the community pharmacy network is set once again to battle potential widespread closure. And, having spent more than a decade working in politics, Ward is ideally placed to lead the charge against proposed cuts to the community pharmacy contract.
Pathway to politics
“I always knew politics was in the blood,” Ward reflects. “My parents were local councillors and I was involved with the Labour Party from the age of 11.” Ward joined the Labour Party at 15 years old, and was on the national executive committee by the age of 19.
Ward qualified as a solicitor but, before she commenced her legal career, Westminster beckoned. She was selected as the parliamentary candidate for Watford in 1995 and was elected to Parliament in 1997. Aged 24 years, she was the country’s youngest female MP. “I spent the first parliamentary term on the culture, media and sport select committee,” she remembers. “That was an exciting period because there was a lot going on in terms of enquiries into the Millennium Dome, the Millennium projects and the new Wembley Stadium, so I got a lot of experience in that ability to examine and question people.”
In the final Parliament, Ward served as government whip and, as Justice Minister, was responsible for introducing the UK Bribery Act. “I was vice chamberlain to Her Majesty’s Household, so that’s where you have to write to the Queen every day,” she explains. “When the Queen comes to open Parliament and makes the Queen’s speech, it is the person who holds the post of vice chamberlain who gets taken hostage in Buckingham Palace. So the whole thing was an amazing experience.”
Some people in political life forget that if you are bullying and being ruthless to get what you want, you don’t take people with you
Challenges in the Commons
Like many MPs, Ward was encouraged to write a memoir of her time in politics. “People used to say to me, why don’t you write a book? Notes and diaries from 13 years of Parliament. And, of course, there would be fantastic bits of information from that period,” she says. “But political memoirs are only interesting if they say things that shouldn’t be said. I don’t think people should reveal things in that way — if you wouldn’t want people to do that to you then you shouldn’t do it to others.”
Ward did not always welcome the manner in which some politicians behaved. “Some people in political life forget that if you are bullying and being ruthless to get what you want, you don’t take people with you. So yes, you need to be tough and I am when I need to be, but I prefer to try to work with people to get what I want. Politics should be about the art of persuasion,” she reflects.
The challenge was amplified because of her gender, she adds. “You have to prove yourself more for a start in politics and you have to be better than the average,” she explains. “Certainly, when we were first selected, women MPs, particularly me as a younger MP, were subjected to more criticism and scrutiny about what we wore and what we looked like rather than what we said. And that’s hugely damaging when you’re trying to encourage young women to get involved in politics and feel that they’ve got something worthy to say. It’s getting better but I still don’t think it is good enough.”
Furthering community pharmacy
When Ward lost her seat in 2010, she was unclear on her future career direction. However, after meeting Fin McCaul, then chair of the Independent Pharmacy Federation (IPF), at several Sigma conferences, she became involved with the IPF herself. “Sigma had a huge amount to do with it, really,” she emphasises. “It was Bharat [Shah, managing director at Sigma] who didn’t want to lose my involvement and support. And so I stuck with it.”
Ward took on her current post in April 2015. “I felt that the post of chair of Pharmacy Voice was almost designed for me,” she says. “It required strategy and knowledge. It offered the opportunity to represent [pharmacists] right across all sectors.”
Chairing Pharmacy Voice is a part-time role. Ward also spends her time as non-executive director of Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. “I see healthcare not just from a pharmacy point of view but right through to the acute end,” she explains. Additionally, she advises companies on their compliance with the Bribery Act.
Her priority now is building the strength of Pharmacy Voice to enable it to bring together the trade associations and make progress for them and their members. “At the moment, given everything else that’s going on, that’s probably a big enough challenge right now,” she adds.
“Independents have such a huge advantage in many respects over the multiples when it comes to making changes. Because they are their own boss — the director, the finance director — they have fleet of foot to decide that something is going to change within the pharmacy,” says Ward. “There’s no shame in seeing a good idea and saying ‘I can do that in my pharmacy’. We should be learning from each other and I hope that independent pharmacists will start to share and support each other in doing that.”
“My own motto is ‘work hard, play hard’,” she says. “I never had a day when I got up in the morning and did not want to go to work. Not when I was an MP and not since I’ve been doing these jobs either. I thrive on it and I enjoy it — that’s important.”