Core Belief: A pharmacy without a pharmacist is not really a pharmacy at all

13 Jul 2017

Martin Astbury is a community pharmacist who works in England and Wales, currently for Morrisons Pharmacy, and was first elected to the Council of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) when it was still a regulator as well as a professional body. In 2006 he was the chair of the RPSGB Health Act working group that helped stave off dangerous proposals to changes to the Supervision laws and help to get Responsible Pharmacist absences capped at two hours rather than the original unlimited that was proposed!

Martin is currently the President of the RPS which is the professional leadership body for pharmacists and pharmacy, influencing the production of legislation and healthcare policies, producing professional standards and guidance, in addition to providing accreditation and world class publications.

Pharmacists have a vital role to play in the NHS of the twenty-first century, indeed pharmacists should be involved wherever medicines appear, from production all the way to the patient.

Pharmacists are the third largest healthcare profession – they are also by far the most accessible, and see more patients per day than any other – yet they are not recognised for how important they truly are. Some pharmacy leaders when talking up potential new “clinical roles” within community pharmacy, make the mistake of appearing to talk down the vital “Clinical” roles Community Pharmacists do now, most of which goes unpaid.

Pharmacies are effectively NHS walk-in centres; keep the well healthy and taking in anyone who’s feeling unwell, performing triage, applying their vast knowledge to help patients with anything from a cold to a long-term condition, in many cases making life-saving interventions.

Estimates suggest that 1.6 million people go into pharmacies every day, with over one billion prescriptions dispensed each year. GMC research publicised in 2012 to investigate prescribing errors pointed out that two million prescribing errors per year were seamlessly and discreetly corrected by pharmacists, in some cases saving lives in the process.

When a patient goes into the pharmacy, they can have confidence in the services we provide; and confidence that a trained healthcare professional, with a pharmacy degree, is in the building. They can be confident that there are protocols in place to deal with any eventuality. The pharmacist will get involved if any one of a number of these protocols is triggered or if they spot that the support staff have missed something subtle said to them. The pharmacist being present in the pharmacy means that we can operate as NHS walk-in centres, and in doing so we take untold pressure off the already overstretched health service.

If the pharmacist isn’t there, then the support staff will come under pressure to act outside of their competency, and the ethos that the public can walk in and get competent advice will be a thing of the past. Take away the highly trained healthcare professional and you might as well be in a garage or a shop.

Pharmacists must on behalf of the public remain legally responsible for the over-arching supervision of the safe sale and supply of medicines; the guardians of medicines, give this function to anyone else and policymakers will have downgraded a vital function of the NHS – meaning that many of those prescribing errors the GMC have talked about will slip through undetected to harm patients.

At the moment, it’s estimated that no patient waits more than six minutes to be seen by a pharmacist, even in the busiest of pharmacies. That beats four hours at Accident and Emergency!


Author:  Martin Astbury Community Pharmacist, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society