Chairman’s New Year message 2018

05 Jan 2018

As you will know only too well, instability of medicines supply, combined with inflated prices, is leading to uncertainty and stress for pharmacy contractors. This is against the backdrop of funding cuts, which are now taking their toll in the form of job losses, reduced services, shelved investments and poor morale.

At the NPA, we continue to put the positive case for investment in the sector to government and the NHS, and to build relationships with decision makers, with a view to creating a genuine partnership for change and improvement.

But this is a moment at which we cannot avoid asking pointed questions of Ministers and officials: Do you understand what’s going on at the pharmacy coalface? Do you care enough to do something about it? Do you really want community pharmacy to succeed for patients, or are you in fact prepared to see the sector suffer and sicken, to the point that it cannot be the agent of transformational change the NHS so desperately needs it to be?  We need answers to these questions, urgently.

However depressing the current situation may be, I remain convinced that there is a commercially viable and professionally rewarding long term future for the community sector.  Community pharmacies have unique strengths and deliver immensely valuable benefits to patients, communities and the NHS.  So it is my view that the network of local pharmacies will remain the beating heart of pharmaceutical care in the community for decades to come.  If policy makers and the pharmacy sector itself make the right choices, community pharmacies will be better integrated with other services, operate efficiently as neighbourhood health and wellbeing centres and become the front door to the NHS.

A recent NPA survey shows that morale is lower in 9 in 10 pharmacies in England than it was two years ago, before funding cuts were announced.  Yet there is still huge personal satisfaction from working in a community pharmacy.  Patients build relationships with their pharmacist, valuing and trusting the advice and support given. Community pharmacists get to know whole families and support them through good and bad times.  This human dimension is one reason why a career in the community pharmacy sector can be so fulfilling.

Meanwhile, influential people in NHS and political circles are beginning to understand that local pharmacies are a solution to long standing challenges in health care and society. It is very encouraging that a respected think tank – ResPublica – recently came out so emphatically in favour of community pharmacy, and at the same time expanded the terms of political discussion about the sector.  I welcome the central message in their Heartbeats on the High Street report that pharmacies perform a vital function in society which is about community as well as healthcare.  The report also endorses our longstanding assertion that pharmacies have transformational potential in primary care and public health.  Furthermore, the author reminds us of the special place that community pharmacy holds in many deprived communities.

So, a cloud of gloom hangs heavy over us, but gloom doesn’t necessarily mean ‘doom and gloom’.  The turn of the year is traditionally a time of hope and renewal.  I am trying my very best to enter into that spirit, and I hope you will too.

Ian Strachan, NPA Chairman