The Labour Party Conference seemed low key for a party believing it is only eight months away from stepping into government. The mood was quiet and little excitement evident from even Party supporters. No front benchers were making any predictions of winning the next general election and they seemed more concerned about making any gaffes or over-promising.
The main exception to a generally quiet conference are the range of health and care fringe meetings, which lived up to their reputation, being lively and engaging. Several are overflowing, with people being turned away from overcrowded rooms.
The royal colleges are out in force, with the Local Government Association also putting in a good show with many councillors in the audiences as well. Health and care are big news, with the Labour Health Front Bench visiting fringes and receptions pressing the flesh and listening to every view, opinion and concern.
The consensus that taxpayers are contributing too much for health persists, with almost every health fringe meeting asking: is the NHS sustainable? The overwhelming conclusion is the need to make change to the English health and care system. The difficulty comes when subsequent questions arise about what those changes should be. It is clear that the consensus is still that there’s no easy solution – no silver bullet.
The RPS fringe, along with Drinkaware and the Local Government Association, went well. The new commissioners in the room – directors of public health and other local government representatives – were challenged to focus on prevention as well as providing a treatment service. I suggested they commission preventative services tailored to local needs, following consultation with patients and healthcare professionals, so commissioners are aware of all possible solutions to local health and care issues.
I mentioned examples of almost every public health service provided by pharmacists and the value of more clinical input such as medication or asthma reviews in preventing non-planned hospital admissions. I raised the essential pharmacy-led smoking cessation services that make such a difference to the health of the public, and how pharmacists and pharmacy staff are able to convince smokers, over maybe several years, to try to quit what is likely to be the biggest avoidable negative influence on their health.
Sir Kevin Barron responded as a representative of the Labour Party and spoke in glowing terms about the profession and the potential for using pharmacy more. The Local Government Association agreed with our stance – that we need a different approach to healthcare provision in England. The challenge healthcare commissioners face is how to move from the current system to something more innovative and effective, rewarding the new clinical roles and delivery of public health services in the current period of financial austerity are all experiencing.
We met several members of the Shadow Health Team with commitments to continue our discussions and there is a definite feeling among RPS representatives that pharmacy is being discussed as a provider of services, valued by patients and being able to relieve some of the pressure on the medical practitioners.
For Labour it was mission accomplished. We presented the views of pharmacists to politicians and other healthcare professions. Now for the other two parties….