Posted by: Sandra Gidley20 OCT 2014
Sandra Gidley speaking at a fringe session of the Liberal Democrat Party Conference
I’ve spent 35 years on the register but 10 of those have been spent as the MP for Romsey. In parliament I was always happy to support my profession when I could, but since losing my parliamentary seat in 2010 I have re-engaged with pharmacy and gradually become more covert about my political activity. At this year’s Lib Dem conference in Glasgow my two worlds collided.
Some context is needed here. The RPS engages with all political parties and staff spend a lot of time meeting with politicians and trying to influence policy. Lobbying activity can be likened to mining for gold but on occasion you come across a real nugget.
At the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow it all came together.
Over the past year staff have responded to a number of political consultations and one of these was the Lib Dem consultation on Public Services. As a result of this fine work we not only had recognition of the potential to develop pharmacy services in the policy paper but pharmacy’s contribution was singled out in a debatable motion. Not sure if this is a first but it is certainly rare. During the debate the conference hall would be full of health lobbyists, councillors and other key opinion formers so I put in a card to speak. A dispensing GP who was an early speaker raised the importance of pharmacists having access to patient records so I was able to get up and speak about how pharmacists can help relieve pressures on urgent and emergency care.
When I sat down Norman Lamb, the Minister for Care Services sat next to me to discuss some of what I had said. His portfolio covers mental health and long term conditions so he is an important ally but a little known fact is that all Lib Dem Ministers in Government have a broad overview of all of their Department’s policies, so they are in a position to influence.
In fact, over the next few days I felt as though I was stalking Norman because he appeared at every fringe meeting I attended!
In previous years, health events at all the party conferences have come under the umbrella of something called the Health Hotel. For a variety of reasons this was not the case this year so the RPS organised its conference activity with the help of Dods, a well respected political engagement firm. This included a fringe meeting on Sunday lunchtime with partners from the Local Government Association and Drinkaware. The subject was brief public health interventions but I used it as an opportunity to increase awareness of MURs and the New Medicine Service, in which pharmacists regularly discuss public health issues. As a result of the meeting there are various matters that we will follow up with the two partner organisations.
Dods also arranged a health reception and a round table breakfast meeting with key Lib Dems, including Norman Lamb. I was able to highlight a number of solutions including a national Common Ailments Scheme and the contribution that pharmacists could make towards better medicines use in the elderly. But when Norman described pharmacists as “the accessible health professional on the high street”, without any prompting from me I knew that some of the hard work was beginning to pay off.
With two speeches under my belt I was preparing myself for a run of fringes, thinking how I could promote pharmacy when I was asked to consider talking in the debate on “Ageing Britain”. I hadn’t read the paper in detail but when I did I was sufficiently galvanized to prepare a speech because the paper contained some daft ideas around GPs and Medicines reviews along with a bizarre suggestion that patients should be provided with an annual breakdown of their care costs. I was relieved to receive a round of applause when I described some of this as “utterly bonkers” . A work in progress.
But, as conference progressed it became clearer and clearer that an emerging message is that other professionals should work with pharmacy . Most importantly, at the RCGP fringe, Lord Adebowale repeatedly told the GPs that they should work with pharmacists. I was able to smilingly reflect on a conference two years ago when Lord A chaired the first fringe I spoke at, on behalf of the RPS. He told me afterwards that what I was saying about how pharmacy could contribute to the NHS made a lot of sense. He remembered that meeting.
As I left conference I reflected on the words of a politician whose views I do not share – save for this. A journey is indeed made of a thousand steps but at the moment I am beginning to sense that, for pharmacy, the steps are being replaced by strides.
Sandra Gidley, FRPharmS, is a member of the Liberal Democrats Party and vice-chairman of the English Pharmacy Board of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Society.