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Stepping up during the junior doctor’s strike

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There are a number of pivotal moments in everyone’s life. For me a key one was as a 17-year-old sitting and waiting for a physics class to start. I was talking to one of my friends about choices of degrees at university. Both teachers at my school and my parents were putting pressure on me to apply to medicine. I was certain that becoming a doctor was not for me. My friend had applied to study pharmacy and was selling it as a career. The important points I remember were that it was well paid, firmly rooted in science and yet you had to interpret the theory dependent upon individual patient circumstances. I am thankful that I had that conversation and choosing to become a pharmacist has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Since that time in the early 1990s the role of pharmacy in the care of patients has massively changed. We have built on the solid foundations of clinical pharmacy and developed far too numerous clinical roles to mention. This has been supported by independent prescribing, development of technician roles and improving technology. I have been lucky enough to be involved in developing some of this innovative practice. This month another significant development occurred for pharmacy. The junior doctors have taken industrial action for one 24-hour period and there could potentially be further strikes. The pharmacists I work with felt that they wanted to support the junior doctors but also had an ethical duty to ensure the patients we care for were safe and receiving the treatment they required.

As a pharmacy department we looked at how pharmacy could support the nurses and consultants to care for patients in the absence of the junior doctors. We stepped up and the general feeling was that we surprised ourselves. Feedback from the medical director and other members of the trust executive was that pharmacy was essential in making sure that patients were cared for appropriately during the junior doctor’s industrial action. The prescribing pharmacists, in particular, found that the limits of their competence were further than they thought. They had requests for many things that junior doctors do that they were not competent to do, including one pharmacist who was asked to certify a patient’s death. There were, however, many opportunities for them to use their skills that would not normally occur when junior doctors were around.

So why is this such a significant development for pharmacy? For me it shows that we, as pharmacists, should be going out to look for opportunities to use our skills and knowledge to get the best care for patients. With the workforce and financial pressures the NHS is currently experiencing, pharmacy is ideally placed to help solve the problems. As a profession we need to look beyond what historically we have done or what we are doing now. We need to consider how best our skills and knowledge will improve patient care. Looking back to that decision I made when choosing my career I am pleased that the reasons I made a choice to be a pharmacist are those skills that the NHS requires. We are needed to apply our scientific skills and knowledge to individual patients to get the best possible care they require. We are not junior doctors and there are many roles they do that we do not perform.

I hope that the NHS will be able to support its staff to ensure fair pay for the role they do but also that pharmacy can see the current challenges the NHS is experiencing as the opportunity for us to further develop the profession. 

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