On 17 January 2020, thousands of people across the UK tuned into ITV’s This Morning to start their day. But, for the pharmacists among them, a guests’ cruel dismissal of their profession was difficult to watch.
During a slot asking, ‘should chemists [sic] tell customers they’re fat?’, Sam Delaney, a journalist, described pharmacists as “pretend doctors”, who do little other than “collect the box of pills behind them”. The discussion was sparked by draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence on pharmacists’ role in discussing patients’ drinking, smoking, and other lifestyle choices.
No healthcare professional was invited on the show to counter these irresponsible claims, which disregard the important work pharmacists across the board do. So, This Morning, I would like to state the following:
I am a pharmacist who works in a brilliant multidisciplinary team in the infectious diseases ward of one of London’s biggest NHS hospital trusts.
Every morning, I take part in a meeting (comprising doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, discharge coordinators and others), where we discuss patients and how we can all contribute to their care.
I then complete my ward round.
I take medication histories from new patients.
I go through each patient’s drug chart to check their medications are safe, appropriate and effective for them.
I confirm the doses of the medications are safe by checking patients’ renal and liver function.
I look at how each drug a patient is taking is absorbed into and eliminated from the body, and consider factors that may affect these processes; a patient with poor kidney function, for example, may not be able to remove medications from their body.
And I am a source of medication information and advice for (if Delaney can believe it) doctors and nurses on the ward. I am often asked for pharmaceutical advice by doctors of all levels, including consultants and senior registrars. Delaney would have the public believe pharmacists are would be doctors, but he must see that we have our own valuable skills and expertise to offer.
We are no longer ‘chemists’. We work across our NHS, and our roles have changed significantly — particularly in community pharmacy, where we no longer simply dispense and hand out medication. We are actively involved in caring for patients, minimising harm, and promoting their health.
Delaney’s fellow guest, broadcaster and journalist Vanessa Feltz, should know that a community pharmacist would never “ambush” a patient when they’re “just looking for some scarlet nail varnish” and publicly humiliate them by calling them “fat”.
The NHS Health Check service, available in many pharmacies, is offered to patients who are at a high risk of developing cardiovascular events in the future. When dispensing a prescription, a pharmacist could offer to discuss the patient’s risk in a private consultation room, and never in the public domain, as This Morning suggested. Pharmacists are trained and more than qualified to offer these services, and the right support and information.
Pharmacists are offering more and more services to patients to improve their health and reduce GP workload, and, in its 2016 Carter review and the ‘NHS long-term plan’, the NHS clearly encourages better use of these professionals. Despite this, I am worried that the derogatory comments made on This Morning will influence the public’s perception of us and deter them from seeking advice from their local pharmacist.
But, with #whatwedoinpharmacy, we are showcasing what we do across our healthcare system; we are showing the lengths we go to in order to prevent patient harm and, ultimately, save lives.
Pharmacists are as integral to the healthcare team as any other healthcare professional. We are shocked and outraged by the conversation that occurred on This Morning, and we will work tirelessly to show our patients who we really are.
I love my job, and I am so proud to call myself a pharmacist. ITV: if you want to discuss this, and clear up the misconceptions you shared, I look forward to hearing from you.
Fatema Mamdani, rotational pharmacist, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; ambassador, Royal Pharmaceutical Society