Despite the importance of medicines and vaccines during this pandemic, pharmacist voices have not cut through when it comes to Covid-19 related public discourse.
And before folk moan, I’m talking here about what the general public see not what we observe within our pharmacy echo chambers.
I understand that as a bunch of procrastinating perfectionists we were out of our comfort zone at the beginning of the pandemic when uncertainty was rife and solid evidence to drive decisions was thin on the ground.
Despite this fact, community pharmacy colleagues particularly battled against these cautious instincts to remain at the real front line. For a few months, community pharmacy was literally the front door of the NHS and an accessible location for patients who were scared.
We were scared too, but we (as usual quietly) just got on with it.
But what an opportunity missed that this was not converted into positive headlines to bolster the standing of our profession. Not enough of the general public know what we did in pharmacies back then.
Does this matter I hear you cry?
Whether it matters or not, I think that as a profession we are reaping what we sow due to internal division, an existential identity crisis and retreat to our comforting echo chambers. I must also add that the dominance and consolidation of a small number of large pharmacy businesses in the UK over the years has not helped either.
And now Amazon is drifting silently into view.
The profession of pharmacy is completely divided in my view and therefore I think our lack of collective status at the top table of the medical information machine has been lacking.
I’m not dismissing all the good stuff but we have got a problem.
The profession in the UK has retreated and this fear has driven unionisation over recent years. Unionisation is a symptom but as someone who has availed of the services of said Union in the past I say this with a grateful tongue in cheek.
The nature of professional support has proliferated over recent years. The critical mass in one organisation no longer exists and many pharmacists stumble at a basic understanding of what the role of the various organisations are.
If you look hard enough though, there is some hope.
It seems that there is a small nucleus of innovative early adopter pharmacists that are trying their best to latch on to and use the myriad of technological assets to help with the delivery of pharmaceutical care. This is across all the sectors of pharmacy.
Fundamentally we don’t know what a pharmacist is. So if we don’t know then how on earth do we expect the general public to understand and again does this matter anyway?
If we delve deeply into our pharmacist soul I think most of us would really struggle to fully grasp what the purpose of a pharmacist actually is.
We are instructed by those promoting the services of pharmacists that we are ‘experts in medicines’ but I cannot see enough evidence to justify this statement. A better description would be that ‘we have a focus on the safe use of medicines’. Some sectors of pharmacy have certain advantages and allow the development of what government officials describe as ‘clinical skills’ but the lack of a clear, consistent postgraduate training pathway led by a professional body means we are incorrectly using the ‘expert’ title in my view.
What is the golden thread that holds us all together?
This identity crisis is a huge problem for the future of what we understand to be our profession.
It could be argued that the lack of understanding by the general public is the least of our worries. The existential threat to what we understand our profession to be is real.
Many of us are grandstanding over there while activity in relation to medicines is evolving over there. The innovation happening in the private sector is staggering and pharmacists are silently being painted into insignificance.
Divided we will fall but worse than that would anyone notice if we did?
Johnathan Laird is a pharmacist who would struggle to host a daily briefing for his cats never mind the nation.
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