Pushing back against the idea of a commoditised medicines service

Part of my role as the Head of Corporate Affairs at the NPA is to scrutinise government policy, always with the end goal of helping independent pharmacies operate profitable businesses and provide excellent patient care.

By far the most dangerous policy idea circulating in government right now is that local pharmacies can be replaced by an Amazon style medicines service.

The cuts to pharmacy funding in England are, we believe, just one part of a plan to significantly reduce local provision and introduce a superficially cheaper medicines supply service based on centralised, automated dispensing hubs. The plan is predicated on the flawed view that pharmacy is just a distribution mechanism for product – rather than a valuable health and social care asset at the heart of communities. The Department of Heath will of course deny that any such plan exists.  They will say that there is no intention to close local pharmacies and that it’s common sense to consider how technology can be deployed to improve services and create cost efficiencies.   I wish we could believe that their motives are so pure.  Unfortunately, at the NPA we have learned the hard way to trust our gut feeling and to push back hard at the earliest signs of poor policy being formulated. Several policy strands are coming together to create the conditions for a commoditised, de-professionalised service.  This includes moves to remove the pharmacist from the pharmacy (‘clinical pharmacists’ in GP surgeries, technicians running community pharmacies); proposals for ‘hub and spoke’ dispensing; and of course cuts to funding of local pharmacies. Overall, this is big ticket stuff! …

The NPA and the EU

Alongside its equivalent bodies across the channel, the NPA is a member of the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (PGEU). The principal function of the PGEU is to lobby the European Parliament and Commission to try and influence European legislation. With the number of people in the EU at over 500 million across 28 different member countries, it is difficult for the powers that be in Brussels have a full, developed knowledge of how things work in each country. So the NPA, the RPS and Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland help the European Commission to understand how pharmacy operates in the UK.

European legislation can strongly impact pharmacy in the UK when it eventually arrives here. Currently, the UK authorities have very little scope to change things once it has been approved at European level.  So although Europe can feel very distant to pharmacies here, in fact there is a big impact on pharmacy business and practice. An example is the Data Protection Act which was formed as European legislation but transposed into UK law, which our members now must comply with. In the era that the UK has been in the EU, the PGEU has been an important organisation to be part of. During that time we have stood up for our members at local level and national level, and European level when it has been called for. The PGEU elected the UK to the presidency of the association, this election took place two weeks before the referendum, so this will be the last time the UK will front the organisation. Raj Patel, who is an NPA board member, is the current President of the PGEU and has various duties this year to represent all of Europe’s pharmacies in meetings with European parliament and other bodies. He will also host an annual PGEU meeting to be held in London this year with the theme ‘Leading Change’.…