Single voice needed for pharmacy, says Celesio MD

Matt Barclay, Cormac Tobin, Peter Cattee, Ian Strachan


COMMUNITY pharmacy needed to “integrate the representation of the sector under a single leadership body,” said Celesio Managing Director, Cormac Tobin, speaking as part of a panel discussing how to move the community pharmacy narrative forward, at the Pharmacy Show. There were too many groups across the sector, which meant there was “no clarity of strategy, direction or leadership”, Mr Tobin said.

This representative body had to have new skills, competences and leadership qualities that challenged the conventional wisdom of the industry. “The problem is some people are locked in the 20th century – they are using skills and techniques not devised for today’s challenges and opportunities.”

In addition, pharmacy needed to “understand our two customer routes: patients who visit and need our help, and the NHS who pay us”, as currently the dialogue and narrative were incorrect, Mr Tobin said. “I don’t think people are listening to us. I don’t believe people are saying the right things in the right way to the right people.”

Peter Cattee, chair of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIM), said the argument about pharmacy speaking with one voice was “overdone”, but it was “perfectly legitimate” that different interest groups should all be encouraged to get together to discuss the issues. “I’ve never really seen any great problem in bringing the voice of all of us together in one place, and the natural place for that to be was always the PSNC [Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee],” he said.

However, the PSNC had failed to do that, which was a reflection of the complexity of the problem. Nevertheless, he said “If we do want once voice, for me it would be the PSNC in a somewhat altered format.”

However, the PSNC needed to find a new way to re-engage with the government to form a constructive plan together, as there was no real engagement with the profession, Mr Cattee said: “We need to get back to a position where we have a say in what is happening. The reorganisation of the network is going on without any real input from the very people who know how to do it best. It’s absolutely preposterous that fundamental changes are being made without talking to pharmacy.” This was not due to any unwillingness on part of PSNC or the wider contractor base.

One of the problems was that the pharmacy supply function had become commoditised which meant that the supply of medicines had been trivialized for too long: “A lot of value has been extracted and we can’t get it back now because of the financial position of the NHS. Our ultimate aim is to reintroduce some value and get it acknowledged.” But, there were contradictory messages coming from Government and it had not produced a singular vision for pharmacy, Mr Cattee said.

NPA chair, Ian Strachan explained that it took years to change government thinking and policy: “It’s a battle, it’s hard, it’s a grind, but that’s the way it is, and I do think we are getting somewhere. It’s inconceivable to imagine any sustainable solution to the NHS demand pressure without including community pharmacy.”

Asked about the experience in Scotland, Matt Barclay, Director of Operations at Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS) said: “The reality is we are not perfect, we don’t have all the answers, but we understand what our customers need: patients and the NHS, and we look at policy and collaborate with colleagues in government to deliver on that policy.”

CPS was looking at moving the contract to the next level to involve common clinical conditions, and address public health needs. However, it was important to “make supply our friend”, Mr Barclay said, and there were different ways of doing that. The challenge was to “do what we do now, but better”, or questions would be asked, as the case for funding in Scotland had to be made as strongly as in England. Negotiation in Scotland may be helped by the size compared to England, but because of the size, those relationships had to be  strong.

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