A lot of things have been hanging in the balance lately - indeed, I don't believe that there's ever been a time when so many things are utterly unknown. Post our collective vote to leave the EU, it's impossible to know when or under what circumstances Article 50 will be invoked or indeed who will have the difficult task of doing it. Both the party in government and the opposition are in flux and the headlines have been dominated with the fallout from Brexit, the fate of EU citizens living here, the teacher's strike, the Chilcot report; political life in Britain seems to have become a whirlwind of uncertainty amid a series of complicated unknown factors.
Within all of this uncertainty it's easy to forget that the fate of community pharmacies also hangs in the balance. The biggest healthcare headline this week amidst all the chaos was the news that Doctors voted to reject Mr. Hunt's proposed contract and his insistence to implement it anyway, but before this Alistair Burt, minister with responsibility for pharmacies, resigned - perhaps not the highest profile resignation lately, but doubtless a significant one to the government's plans. The only certainty here is that NHS is at breaking point and in the meantime thousands of pharmacists up and down the country are also facing an unknown future.
Over two million people have now signed the petition asking the government to re-examine their plans to implement "efficiency savings" to pharmacies. The petitions have been delivered to Downing Street in box after box, from patients across the country, each of them desperately concerned that they may lose a resource that they consider to be absolutely vital both to their community and to their health & wellbeing. Many of them are currently living with the uncertainty of seeing that resource disappear, and the potential in some cases that they may have to travel much further to see a pharmacist. We have collected testimony from pharmacists everywhere that proves how far above and beyond the call of duty my colleagues go, every day, to help their patients. They are living with the uncertainty of a future that could see many of them struggling to keep staff to provide even a basic service to patients.
The government must listen to them all, especially in the light of their proposed hub and spoke dispensing model being taken back to the drawing board. As we now know, this will not provide the cuts in cost that they seek - and with Alistair Burt's resignation I ask that whoever succeeds him works with pharmacists to sense-check this entire plan.
The Health Secretary has said that the Department of Health will communicate its decisions early in July, so while we have reason to believe that an announcement may be imminent, I think the current government upheaval is an opportunity for fresh dialogue and a re-assessment of the policy situation in relation to pharmacy.
Mr Burt's successor should be given the opportunity to thoroughly review the Department of Health's plans before any steps are taken towards their implementation. He or she should also look carefully at the alternatives laid out by the pharmacy sector. The NHS absolutely cannot handle the closure of up to 3000 pharmacies in addition to its already enormous problems. Officials should get around the table with pharmacists and patients to discuss, from first principles, a future in which the pharmacy sector is vibrant and efficient, and fulfilling its full potential on the health service front line.
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