Posted by: Elizabeth Sukkar25 JUN 2013
Pharmacists who care about this profession would have been cringing last week after reading the Daily Telegraph’s investigation into how pharmacists were allegedly involved in defrauding the NHS over the reimbursement of “specials” medicines. Pharmacy leaders and the specials industry sector have rightly condemned this illegal activity.
But what now? Over the past eight months, pharmacists have been dealt traumatic blows to their image and reputation.
In November 2012, two MPs worryingly captured what could well be a widespread lack of understanding of what pharmacists actually do. Tory MP Phillip Lee, who also happens to be a GP, suggested that pharmacists were being paid for “counting Smarties”, while Labour MSP Jenny Marra claimed that pharmacists were “methadone millionaires”, making money off the back of addicts.
Then in the following month, the BBC exposed nine west London pharmacies allegedly selling prescription-only medicines including diazepam, sildenafil, temazepam and morphine, without prescriptions. That one hurt. Was the public thinking we all secretly did this too?
At least, surely we were doing well in the selling of over-the-counter medicines. Well, not if the claims made in a Which? report, published in May, are to be believed. Which? told the public that two in five pharmacies were offering unsatisfactory advice.
What we need now is a long-term strategy to improve the image and reputation of the profession in the public’s eye that has being damaged by recent events. We need the public to know about the brilliant pharmaceutical care pharmacists and pharmacies provide on a minute-by-minute basis.
The Ogilvys of this world could be asked to aid pharmacy’s reputational repair, but it really comes down to simple education. A long-term campaign, including TV ads, that tells everyone: “Hey, I am your most accessible healthcare professional. I have a five-year degree. You can see me any time. I am on your high street.” Who should endorse it? I would hope it would be multistakeholder, including the Department of Health, NHS England, Public Health England, pharmacy bodies, pharmacy businesses and of course patient groups, who are benefiting from pharmacy every day.
So when (and if) the next scandal hits the newspapers, the public will have already been primed with the benefits of pharmacy towards the health of the nation, and there will be some inbuilt damage control in the public’s perception of the profession.
Elizabeth Sukkar is a senior writer for The Pharmaceutical Journal. She has contributed regularly to the British Medical Journal and the Guardian on pharmaceutical matters, and was the former world editor of Scrip.