FUTURE PROSPECTS: The Shah family (from left) Paras, Kamalbhai, Hatul, Bharatbhai, Rajiv, Manishbhai and Bhavin at the Sigma conference; (below right) Sue Sharpe; and (below left) Sir Kevin Barron


by NEIL TRAINIS in Borneo

SIGMA CONFERENCE HEARS TORY PLANS

PRIME MINISTER Theresa May raised hope at the Sigma Pharmaceuticals conference in Borneo that community pharmacies have a long-term future under the Conservatives by saying in a letter shown during the event that phar­macists and their teams across England “remain at the heart of patient care and community wellbeing.”  

The week-long conference at the Shan­gri-La Tanjung Aru Hotel has drawn lead­ing figures from the world of healthcare and politics to discuss a range of issues that will go a long way to deciding the fate of community pharmacy, including fund­ing cuts, hub and spoke dispensing and service commissioning.  

Yet it was May’s letter in which she gave the impression that the sector has an in­tegral role to play in the NHS going for­ward that caught the eye.  

“Community pharmacies remain at the heart of patient care and community wellbeing. I know there is great impor­tance in ensuring the improvement of health in communities, helping individu­als to live, work and travel with the best service,” she wrote.  

“Sigma’s mission to providing an ex­ceptional customer experience in chang­ing times is commendable and, I am sure, highly valued by many.  

“As we are in the middle of national change, I hope the conference allows partners within the community pharma­cy sector to discuss how to further shape their businesses for the future.”  

Steve Brine, the minister with respon­sibility for community pharmacy at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), added to the sense that the gov­ernment is keen to ensure community pharmacy plays a central role in patient care by insisting it was “an essential part of primary care.”  

“We celebrate community pharmacies and the work they’ve done to improve the health of the population,” he said via re­corded video message from London.  

“Community pharmacies play a pivotal role as a community and health asset and are often embedded in some of the most deprived and challenged communities, providing daily contact for people seek­ing health advice.  

“Since taking up this job it has become clear to me the passion that pharmacy professionals have for their role in optimising the use of medicines and providing advice and support to their communities.”  

Brine added: “Pharmacy for me is an essential part of primary care, with over 1.2 million health visits every day. They offer inclusive, easily accessible health services, they play a key role in the pre­vention of ill-health, the reduction of dis­eases and poor health and wellbeing across the board.  

“The government is committed to en­suring that community pharmacy contin­ues to play an important role in the health of our nation.  

“The introduction of quality payments in the contractual framework of England has encouraged further integration with other NHS services and recognised com­munity pharmacy as the key to engage in the delivery of high quality services. The high take-up really is to be commended.”  

Brine also said he was keen to see the decriminalisation of dispensing errors which could be realised as early as April.  

“I’ve been keen to do what I can to sup­port you, which is why I’m personally committed to seeing the long-awaited legislation being passed through parlia­ment to offer pharmacy professionals working in registered pharmacies a de­fence to sanctions where inadvertent preparation or dispensing errors occur,” he added.  

“I’m also committed to ensuring the government consults on these defences being afforded to pharmacy professionals working outside registered pharmacies, therefore guaranteeing parity across the pharmacy professionals.  

“I look forward to seeing how the re­moval of the fear of prosecution trans­lates into increased learning across the sector and improvements in what I know is already an incredibly professional service.”  

The Sigma conference is one of the key events for community pharmacists, bringing them together with pharmacy lead­ers and key generic manufacturers.  

This is the 10th year of the conference organised by Sigma Pharmaceuticals, the country’s biggest independent shortline pharmacy wholesaler.  

Led by Bharat Shah and his family, the conference aims to share key learnings with community pharmacists and help them play a key role in primary care within the NHS.  

The Labour MP Sir Kevin Barron, who is in Borneo for the conference, however, took the opportunity to criticise the Con­servatives over what he described as their “ridiculous” cuts to community pharma­cy funding.  

“To describe the last few years as chal­lenging for pharmacy would be probably the world’s biggest understatement. This government has made many bad choices but the decision to decimate pharmacy budgets has to be up there as one of the most ridiculous,” he said.  

Barron, who is also the chair of the All- Party Pharmacy Group, said community pharmacy’s clinical expertise should be “better used.”  

“Dispensing prescriptions should not be the be-all and end-all of community pharmacy. I know that (pharmacists’) in­come is now 90 per cent from that source and that is something that needs to be addressed,” he said. “The supply function should be a platform from which you provide a range of important, valued services.”  

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiat­ing Committee recently said it would press the DHSC and NHS England for a service-based pharmacy contract that will cultivate community pharmacy’s role in providing care for people with long-term conditions. Community pharmacy has not had a new contract since 2005.  

Sue Sharpe, the outgoing chief execu­tive of the PSNC, reaffirmed the body’s commitment to ensuring that pharmacy services are developed around the pro­fession’s supply function.  

  • The Sigma conference in Borneo, which began on Monday (12), runs until Saturday (17).