By Sibby Buckle FRPharmS, Chair, Pharmacy Digital Forum and English Board member
A rainy Manchester was the setting for this year’s Conservative Party Conference. The slogan “Get Brexit Done” emblazoned across the outside of the convention complex to greet the mix of party members, campaigners and lobbyists. It was a recurring message throughout the proceedings, with the party of government looking to focus on issues other than Europe, but Brexit still dominated much of the speeches and debates.
With a new Prime Minister, a reshuffled Cabinet, and continued speculation over a potential general election, the backdrop for this conference was far from usual. Indeed, after a Supreme court ruling, Parliament itself was still sitting while the conference was going on. Would opposition parties try to table votes so that Conservative MPs would have to travel back to London? Would there be a vote of no confidence in the Government? Would the Conference need to finish early? As it was, none of this came to pass and the party managed to set out its agenda largely unimpeded.
The policy announcement on health which received the most attention in the news was for the extra £13.4Bn funding for hospital infrastructure, but there were lots of other events and debates in the conference fringes as well.
I was delighted to join representatives from a number of Royal Colleges at a roundtable on workforce, hosted by the Royal College of Physicians and the British Medical Association, as well as Health Committee member Andrew Selous MP and Marcus Fysh MP. The discussion focused on how to make the NHS the best place to work and how we can support recruitment – a key theme of the Interim NHS People Plan. This is a big focus for the RPS, looking at a range of issues such as education and training, recruitment into new roles such as in primary care networks, and how pharmacists’ mental health can be supported in an often-pressurised work environment.
I also raised the need for funding for Community Pharmacists to train as Independent Prescribers (IP’s) to help ease the pressure on GP’s, and encourage the public to visit their ‘Pharmacy First’. This is becoming more pressing as the move to give prescribing rights to Physicians Associates, Anaesthetists Associates, and Clinical Scientists increases. I don’t want our Pharmacy profession left behind!
At an NHS Confederation fringe on “The NHS in a post-Brexit world” with Vicky Ford MP, a member of the Science and Technology Committee, I highlighted how pharmacists are key to helping patients access their medicines, particularly in the event of potential shortages. Indeed, we have already had the first ‘Serious Shortage Protocol’ (SSP) announced.
I then hot-footed it to a roundtable with Turning Point on health inequalities and the Government’s prevention green paper, using this opportunity to flag the need for an agreed mechanism for Pharmacists to be enabled to, and fully engage in, ‘social prescribing’.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP spoke really positively about pharmacy later that day “in conversation” with the Centre for Policy Studies. When asked about the new announcement on hospital funding, he went on to highlight the importance of supporting prevention and how pharmacists can play a vital role in helping people stay healthy and out of hospital, as well as treating minor ailments in the community and taking pressure off GPs. He welcomed the direction of travel set out in the new community pharmacy contract so that pharmacists can provide more services and said he hoped this would be further expanded in future to make even greater use of pharmacists’ clinical skills.
It was great to hear the message getting through about how pharmacists will be really important to helping deliver the NHS Long-Term Plan. With the “final” NHS People Plan expected in the coming months, we’ll keep talking to Government and the NHS about supporting the profession to get the best results for our patients.
Yes, a conference focused on Brexit, but with Health still firmly on the agenda.