NHS and Government owe pharmacy a great debt, says outgoing PSNC CEO

The resilience of community pharmacy teams during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of this to the health service and public, has been highlighted by Simon Dukes, as he leaves PSNC.

Addressing delegates at the Pharmacy Show on Sunday morning (17th October), Mr Dukes, who stepped down from his role as PSNC Chief Executive this month, said: “This time last year you faced a backlog of patients for the NHS; patients and healthcare professionals were still unvaccinated and afraid; and of course, the second wave loomed. But you worked through it, doing everything that was needed, and for that the NHS and Government owe you a great debt.”

Mr Dukes praised the sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that everyone who worked in community pharmacy had been proud to do so. Alongside this, pharmacies had undergone a transformation in their clinical services offering, he said, rolling an out ‘an impressive list of services’.

But although this transformation, as well as the increasing impact of pharmacies on saving GP appointments, should start to give the sector the leverage it needs to enter future negotiations more confidently, he also warned of challenges ahead.

“At my first meeting with PSNC Members I told them that there was not going to be any more money. And that remains a troubling fact: HM Treasury would seemingly rather cut, or at least constrain, community pharmacy funding than increase it. And that is, unfathomably, despite your magnificent performance throughout the pandemic,” Mr Dukes warned.

The sector should continue to make its case and to seek leverage, but should also look for other income streams, he said. This had been achieved over the past few years with income from Test and Trace services, vaccination funds, and with funding to help towards some of the new services.

Looking ahead, Mr Dukes also reflected on the work of the Review Steering Group asking how anyone could object to its ambitions to achieve stronger representation, better and more consistent support for contractors, and a more unified voice to Government and the NHS.

Urging contractors to engage constructively with the RSG and to look for joint solutions, he said: “In this way you will get to a better way of working, rather than being stuck in the complaints and challenges of the past. You will move towards a world that is built on cohesion and gives you a more unified voice, rather than one that is stuck in divisions.”

Concluding his speech, Mr Dukes thanked all in community pharmacy for the work they are doing. “I have never before come across health professionals who are so dedicated to the health and wellbeing of their local communities – often to their own financial detriment and at personal cost – and I doubt that I ever will again,” he said.

As well as being a sector with many challenges, community pharmacy still felt like it could have exciting things ahead, he concluded.

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