The Pharmacy Show is always the perfect opportunity for all those across the sector to get together and discuss the future of pharmacy. It’s also a good chance, to reflect on the last 12 months and realise just how far we’ve come.
And that’s exactly what the Trailblazers’ Panel, held in the Keynote Theatre at this year’s show, did.
The all-female panel, chaired by TM editor, Monica West, included Vikki Furneaux, manager and pharmacist at Monkbar Pharmacy and YMG community pharmacy Primary Care Network (PCN) lead; Shilpa Shah, CEO, northeast London Local Pharmaceutical Committee (LPC); Patricia Tigenoah-Ojo, community pharmacist contractor; and Reena Barai, NPA board member and community pharmacist contractor.
Reflecting on the past
The discussion opened with the four trailblazers reflecting on the three things that had given them hope for the future of pharmacy in the last 12 months.
For Patricia, the things achieved by community pharmacy throughout the pandemic has meant that the potential of the sector is finally getting the recognition it deserves. “I think there’s a real interest in what community can do on a clinical level,” she said. “The value of community pharmacy has definitely come to the fore. Yes, we’ve got hard times ahead that we’ve got to navigate, but I think there’s a lot of hope that we need to build on and move forward.”
Earlier this year, members of the pharmacy sector were invited to meet then-Prince Charles at a reception to recognise these efforts, something Shilpa sees as a turning point. “It was lovely to meet King Charles III,” she said. “For him to take the time to understand community pharmacy and speak to people individually, we must make sure we keep building on that.”
There certainly was a strong feel amongst the panellists that also working collaboratively would push the sector to continue to achieve more. “As a contractor”, added Reena, “I’ve often felt alone and meeting people who think like me and have patient care at the foremost of what they do, like [the other panel members] is trailblazing and is very inspiring”.
Making change happen
Equally, the overriding theme of the discussion was “don’t take no for an answer”.
“I got where I am by just being relentless,” said Reena. “I always turned up, always contributed, always worked collaboratively – and it paid off.”
“I think if people hear it often enough, they do believe it,” explained Vikki, who spearheaded a scheme in her community which saw direct lines of communication open between pharmacies and GP surgeries.
“This created enthusiasm from our PCN and another PCN to set up a collaboration in our area with no geographic boundaries,” she explained. “We take it in turns to chair it so there’s equal representation between GPs and pharmacy. It’s not without its challenges but I think we are starting to make things work.
“This means that patients aren’t being handed back and forth, they do not have to repeat themselves over and over and ultimately develops our consultation skills because we know what information we need from patients.”
Enabling these conversations, shouting about the sector and not taking no for an answer has helped to raise awareness and build respect and recognition, but this can only go so far. “It’s about having conversations with people who haven’t seen what community pharmacy can do, or don’t have faith and being able to demonstrate that we will deliver,” added Shilpa. “But we need funding to nail it and get it right.”
“We’ve shown that community pharmacy is strong, pharmacy teams are strong and trainable,” said Patricia. “We can do more for the NHS. It’s not just about being shopkeepers – if we give community pharmacy a chance we could deliver so much.”
Looking to the future
Funding would of course enable the aspirations each panellist has for the future, goals that are both well thought out and would make a serious contribution to public health, tackling health inequality, improving patient care and unburdening stretched NHS and other services.
“I’d like to see us doing a lot more work locally so we can get everybody on the same level from a health care point of view,” said Shilpa. “Health prevention is so important. We’re so busy now working on acute and chronic conditions. Actually, if we started talking about childhood obesity with parents, for example, the children now won’t be developing diabetes of heart disease in 20 years’ time. It’s a knock-on effect.”
But togetherness should continue to be the foundation of these aspirations. “We need to be working together as members of the primary care network and building on how we do that,” added Vikki. “We will be more successful together and so will the health of our communities. It just takes a little bit of faith.”
“In five years,” said Reena, “I want to see that pharmacy utopia. In our own little worlds, we’re creating it, but I want to see that multiplied across England. I think you can feel the love for pharmacy more in Scotland and Wales and we need that in England desperately.”