Chief Executive’s blog: May 2021

By Chief Executive Simon Dukes

I hope that by now many of you will have read or heard about PSNC’s decision to postpone its Regional Representative elections by a year. This means our current representatives will stay in post until March 2023. This will give the Review Steering Group (RSG) time to complete its work. At the heart of this is an ambition to improve contractor representation and support, which will mean better and more consistent services for contractors, as well as better outcomes from negotiations both local and national.

If you haven’t read the new At A Glance Guide to the RSG’s work, then it would be a good place to start. I would also strongly encourage you to attend their next event on June 14th. The Group’s work might not feel like a priority right now, but it is going to be critical for pharmacy contractors, LPCs and PSNC over the coming months and years. If we get it right, it will have far-reaching and very positive consequences for all those who work in community pharmacies. PSNC’s decision to postpone its elections is a clear signal of how seriously the Committee is taking this work programme. We, like the contractors surveyed during the independent review of LPCs and PSNC, want change.

Some of you have been frustrated by the slow pace of the RSG’s work and are rightly wondering what the changes to PSNC and LPCs will actually be and when you can vote on them? The answers to these questions will be the next job for the RSG. My understanding is that the Group has spent the last few months deciding on key principles to help guide the task ahead and mapping out a timeline of key activities. Having all this sorted is important, because change is difficult. Some of the issues that we and LPCs will need to tackle – around governance, tenure, performance, and equity for contractors across the country – are going to be uncomfortable for some people. But our contractors deserve the best representation possible, and we must try to give it to them.

As with any complex change programme there will be many individuals with a view. Some people will have good ideas and have a genuine desire to improve outcomes for contractors, but others will be affected by self-interest and a desire to protect the status quo. The RSG’’ role will be to listen to everyone and to work closely with all those who want to engage constructively to build a better future. However, they will also have to sort through the noise and settle upon a workable solution to address the issues identified by Professor Wright that works best for the vast majority of contractors.

We must not allow our differences to hold us back. We must harness the creativity in this sector and our shared ambition to look forward: working constructively to get the best for community pharmacies. In doing so, I believe that community pharmacy will become a more powerful voice, and that voice will support negotiation at all levels: it will be heard by Government, and it will lead to a better deal for all contractors.

But we will need to work together to achieve that. We will need to work through our differences, respectfully. Where resistance or reluctance to change is manifested in attempts to undermine or stall the process, then we will need to tackle it. If we don’t, the Government and NHS will continue to divide and conquer us: they will use the time that we waste on our own disagreements to carry on undervaluing and underpaying the sector. In short, a failure to find a better way forward would amount to a serious failure for the contractors that we serve, and that is not an option.

So yes, we would all like to have a clearer picture of what will be happening and when. And we would all like to think that the eventual outcome will be exactly the one that suits us best. But from what I have seen to date the RSG’s draft programme plan sets the right tone, and I will absolutely be getting behind the next critical phase of work. Please listen to what the RSG has to say on June 14th, and please get ready to engage with them in a constructive, respectful way. Community pharmacy contractors deserve no less.