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Pharmacists still relatively invisible in the media and the NHS

Zeshan Ahmed brings up the continuing problem of the absence of television media recognition of the profession (PJ, 12 April 2014, p400). This has been endemic since I became a pharmacist in 1970. We have never been acknowledged by any director of programming in any of the major TV companies or institutions as a worthy source of credible information on medicines. This effect is less pronounced on the radio where more exposure has been recorded and that is mainly due to the pressure brought about by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the National Pharmacy Association.

Time and time again, the experience of the recent Sky News “pharmacist-free-zone” is simply a manifestation of the lack of glamour surrounding our professional status. Inclusion as part of a storyline in any medical-based drama is also rare.

Along with dentistry and optometry, there are no places to be had at either Oxford or Cambridge, unlike medicine. We also suffer from the fact that we are so desperately outnumbered and a cursory glance at the total healthcare professional register numbers will show that pharmacists make up less than 5 per cent of the total UK numbers.

However, let us not confine our lack of visibility to the media. We face continuous inconsistent acknowledgement on the NHS radar and this is a major concern to me particularly at a time when the NHS is supposed to be undergoing transformational change. My personal experience continues to witness the lack of recognition going back decades where primary and secondary care is and was completely dominated by the medical profession and its supporters.

Many try to shout out loud that primary care is not just about doctors and nurses but, actually, nothing seems to be shifting more than a millimetre or two from the old models of care despite many words being spoken and published about change being necessary and using alternative professional time appropriately.

The excellent article by Linda Dodds “Pharmacy is the key to medication safety but do organisations know that?” (PJ 2014;292:402) is yet another example of our professional expertise being, at worse, totally ignored and, at best, acknowledged by a minority.

In a report on the cost of prescribing published in 1959, the authors and chairman wrote as part of their recommendations: “We therefore recommend that the Ministry of Health should invite the appropriate medical and pharmaceutical organisations to discuss methods for improving professional collaboration, particularly between local groups of general practitioners and retail pharmacists. One such result might be to reduce wastage of expensive drugs.”

We therefore have firm evidence of 55 years without any noticeable change to the way primary care is structured and practised from the pharmacist viewpoint. The TV companies are simply reflecting the established hierarchy built over 66 years of the NHS regardless of any pharmacy input. Until such time that the NHS really does have to transform the way it operates relying totally on taxation, we should not expect any major shift in professional status.

Andrew McCoig

Chief Executive Officer

Merton Sutton and Wandsworth Local Pharmaceutical Committee

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11137449

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