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The Pharmaceutical Journal
Vol 268 No 7182 p93-96
26 January 2002

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Letters to the Editor

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Community pharmacy (4 letters)

Unity is the only way forward

From Mr M. Holden, MRPharmS

The final paragraph of K. H. Tee's letter (PJ, 5/12 January, p15), where he says that the future is up to us, is highly pertinent in the shadow of the imposed pay award and the lingering threat of future reductions in piece work payments for dispensing National Health Service prescriptions, in addition to the loss of resale price maintenance.

The future for privately owned community pharmacies is bleak. They do not have the buying powers of medium and large groups, and their margins will continue to erode. Further, a business based on high levels of personal service and a high ratio of dispensing to over-the-counter sales will fail to provide a secure return on its capital asset. The concept of Local Pharmaceutical Services is all very well, but based on short term pilots and limited funding, it does not offer a secure enough guarantee to warrant significant investment.

Unity, as Mr Tee states, is the only way forward. But what hope of this with yet another fragmentation of the profession in the formation of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies? We need one body representing the profession, moving it forward both ethically and economically — the two can stand side by side.

Even if this utopian state could prevail, I still have grave concerns. We have a government whose foundations are based on spin and that cares nothing of the patient and those providing services to them. The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, to its credit, has wrestled with a brick-wall approach from Whitehall for years and our lobbying powers are weak and fragmented.

Extreme measures may have to be considered, as undertaken by other professions, such as withdrawing from our side of the NHS contract as part of a campaign. The public generally appreciates the efforts we make and we must not lose their support.

I welcome a response from those bodies currently representing us.

Michael Holden
Fleet, Hampshire

Threaten withdrawal of services

From Mr A. C. Ferguson, MRPharmS

I have read with much interest the various letters published in the columns of The Pharmaceutical Journal about the latest imposition by this Government. Nothing changes only our gross profit, which keeps falling. It really is not the fault of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, because it is attempting to negotiate from an impossible position, against a Government saving as much of public expenditure as possible. The Government holds all the aces It can dress it up whichever way it likes and we have to lump it. The general public is getting a first class service for a third rate level of pay. In the past few weeks we have seen the nurses' award. This is another kick in the teeth because I do not know of any nurses who have to buy or rent their premises and then buy their own stock before they can practise.

There is no return for the risk we take. In my opinion there is only one way to force this Government back to the negotiating table and obtain a fair and just reward and that has nothing to do with a judicial review as suggested by the PSNC.

The only solution is for all contractors to pull together in this situation, forgetting personal differences, and act as a united body. After balloting (ballot papers printed in the pharmaceutical press would be cost effective) the profession led by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the NPA and the PSNC could threaten a total 24 or even 48 hour closure of every community pharmacy in England (Scotland and Wales could follow). This should not be a token gesture of lunchtime breaks, as has been suggested elsewhere, and which I view as a side issue. The threat of a total withdrawal of pharmaceutical services across England would alert the general public to our dilemma and if handled correctly would be a strong sword in our armoury to obtain our reward.

Our biggest problem is solidarity — would Boots, Lloyds and the other major players join in this action? Have they suffered enough? Are they content to be paid less and less each year? Only time will tell, but reluctant as I am to cause any inconvenience to my customers, I for one have had enough.

C. Ferguson
Cradley Heath, West Midlands

Bon appetit!

From Mr A. Cassell, MRPharmS

No, Mr Goldie! We do not have the courage of our convictions (PJ, 19 January, p57). I believe that, as a profession, we do not have the courage to tell Hazel Blears we are not prepared to accept our cut in pay. I am of the opinion that we will once again accept it with good grace. Perhaps this menu could be used to say what we cannot.

Pharmacy Pay Round Consommé

Clearly nothing in it

Pharmacy Pay Round Quail

Won't feed one, let alone sustain your business and let it grow

Busy Fool

It's sort of jam tomorrow

The Bill

If we don't get paid, then can we afford to take this class act out to dinner?

Andrew Cassell
Scunthorpe, South Humberside

Remember the Conservative years?

From Mr A. D. Francis, MRPharmS

Regarding the "Broad Spectrum" article (PJ, 15 December 2001, p848), I entirely agree that we in community pharmacy have been given a very raw deal. What puzzles me is how the authors can believe that we would have had a better deal under a Conservative administration; do they not remember those years?

Alan Francis
Fleet, Hampshire

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