Time to swing the pendulum back

white coat professional shouting into megaphone

Pharmacists need to make their voices heard when it comes to their changing roles, writes Adam Forrest

It’s hard for me not to feel disappointed by the 7CPA. I understand that the timing around COVID put the government and negotiators into a difficult financial position in an uncertain time, and that certainty and stability was preferred to change.

However, it still seems like a contraction of professional services (for the second agreement running!) and increased incentives for supplying PBS pharmaceuticals.

I’m not against our role in supply – it’s obviously the core role of a pharmacist, and our ability to do this well keeps our community safe and healthy.

But find me any pharmacist who chose this career saying “so I can safely and efficiently maintain pharmaceutical supply chains and dispense with minimal errors!”

Renumeration for medicine supply alone has led to the rise of models of community pharmacy where volume is all that matters, and business success is linked only to dispensing or retailing.

Pharmacists are diminished to time-poor robots; soulless. Pharmacists young and old become jaded or disillusioned, and we’re seen as glorified shopkeepers by “real” health professionals. Then the less motivated we become, the more our skills atrophy, and down we spiral.

And yet…

The opportunities are staggering. Government at all levels wants new cost-effective ways of changing health care. Other health professions all acknowledge the problems in medication management and support pharmacist solutions (Medicine Safety is now a National Health Prority).

Pharmacists are trusted and revered by a public who expects so little of them they’re surprised when we take an interest or offer to help.

We have the training and skills to make a difference to people’s lives every single day, and regularly do.

We complain about a lack of renumerated professional services, but we underutilise the services we can already offer, and miss the point that service and renumeration expansions will only come if we prove we deserve it.

My pharmacist mentor and boss has the maxim: “If you get the service stuff right, the business will look after itself”.

A casual glance at any of Bruce Annabel’s columns for the last 10 years makes this case repeatedly. The loyalty, trust and miscellaneous benefits that can be generated by taking a moment to find and resolve a medication-related issue is easily worth the time it took. You build your brand personally and for the business.

The atmosphere and job satisfaction that comes with taking a moment to chat or laugh with a regular customer while providing a service makes the pharmacy a place staff and customers want to be. It’s a job with soul.

Find me any pharmacist who wouldn’t feel more professionally satisfied if they could utilise their professional skills more in day-to-day practice, especially if we could be renumerated the same or better for it.

But we need to be part of the solution. The 7CPA is for five years, and we can’t expect any big renumeration levers to force change from the top down. Change now needs to be from the ground up. And the Guild and PSA need to know it.

You might want to advance your own practice. You might be an early career pharmacist or student who wants to progress community professional services for your future. You might be working in hospital or another setting, but would be more inclined to dabble in community pharmacy if it were more clinical or renumerative.

You might be later in your career, ready to give back your skills and expertise to the profession and help it evolve. You might just morally support the idea.

But your opinion matters, and you should be heard.

This is all you need to do:

  1. Open your email, and in the “To” field, copy or type the addresses for BOTH the relevant state Guild and PSA branches:
    – ACT: act.branch@psa.org.au; guild.act@guild.org.au
    – NSW: nsw.branch@psa.org.au; enquiries@nsw.guild.org.au
    – QLD: qld.branch@psa.org.au; enquiries@qldguild.org.au
    – SA: sa.branch@psa.org.au; guildsa@sa.guild.org.au
    – NT: sa.branch@psa.org.au; office@ntguild.org.au;
    – TAS: tas.branch@psa.org.au; guild.tas@guild.org.au
    – VIC: vic.branch@psa.org.au; info@vic.guild.org.au
    – WA: wa.branch@psa.org.au; reception@wa.guild.org.au
  2. In the subject heading, put “Support for professional services in community pharmacy”
  3. Say who you are, and make a quick statement of support. Consider copying this text and changing to suit you:
    “ My name is___, at___.
    I want to declare my support for the progression of pharmacy services in community pharmacy, and believe this needs to happen ASAP.

Please keep me updated of any progress, initiatives, or other ways I might be able to help achieve this.

Thank you.”

If we can help our professional bodies to understand how much we want this, we might just be able to swing the pendulum back to services and helping people.

A role that can’t be done by robots.

And we’ll all be better for it.

Adam Forrest is the pharmacist manager at Christies Guild Terry White Chemmart in South Australia. He is passionate about professional services in community pharmacy. This opinion piece is his personal opinion and not those of his employers, colleagues or any affiliated organisations.

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