Harry McQuillan: More funded training places needed as community pharmacies struggle

Harry McQuillan is chief executive of Community Pharmacy Scotland.
Harry McQuillan is chief executive of Community Pharmacy Scotland.
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Over the last month or so we have seen a number of studies published which detail the health difficulties that we live with in Scotland.

It is a fact that where you live has a significant impact on the types of illnesses that you are likely to develop over your lifetime and which could either end your life early or cause you to experience a lower quality of life. This is referred to as the ‘disease burden’ and it varies widely across Scotland.

This ‘disease burden’ has many factors, but levels of deprivation within an area determine which illnesses are more prevalent there. It is a stark indication of the difference in quality of life that some Scots enjoy over others.

According to the Scottish Public Health Observatory, it’s been found that if all of Scotland had access to the same level of healthcare, then the impact that ill health has on lives would be reduced by a third.

To further darken this picture, in late September, the Office for National Statistics released a report which informed us that life expectancy in Scotland has fallen for the first time in 35 years.

These worrying statistics have been released at a time when it is well known just how much the NHS is struggling and when we are about to head into the winter, a season which puts even more strain on every health professional as they try and help people stay healthy.

I’m afraid that what I have to say is not so cheery either. It has been recognised by the Scottish Government that community pharmacies are ideally located to be the public health provider of choice to improve the access of local communities to the health care that they need.

However, we are facing difficult times in community pharmacy due to the pressures that our staff are facing, and a significant cause of this is the difficulty in recruiting enough pharmacists and technical staff that our pharmacies require.

The new General Medical Services contract has established the expanded GP clinics that bring together a wide range of public health professionals such as nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists.

While this does have promising potential, the unintended consequence of this service is the incredible pressure it has placed on community pharmacy, as the need for more pharmacists has increased without any extra increase in pharmacists being available. This issue is not 
limited to pharmacists, as our members are now struggling to recruit enough dispensing professionals, with a number of them reporting on a lack of Accuracy Checking Technicians.

These challenges have been highlighted to us in a recent survey of our community pharmacy members; 61 per cent of Scotland’s community pharmacies were represented in the response we got to this. It was consistently reported to us that on top of struggling to recruit the required staff, our pharmacies were often unable to retain them as people made the choice to move to other areas of primary care, which are able to afford a perceived more attractive employment package.

This means our pharmacies are having to rely more on locums where they would normally hire another member of staff. This has increased the demand on locums and also means that the rates locums charge are going up, which compounds the difficult situation for our pharmacies.

We call on the Scottish Government and NHS Health Boards to take action on this serious issue before this situation deteriorates any further. We need to see more focus on this issue for the network and more funded training places so that Scotland can be producing the pharmacists and technical staff it needs.

At Community Pharmacy Scotland, our ambition is that community pharmacies will be able to play an instrumental role in removing the health inequalities we face and enabling people to access the same level of NHS service across the country. However, this will not be possible without more consideration being given to the unintended consequences of concentrating support on one sector of the primary care team.

Harry McQuillan is chief executive of Community Pharmacy Scotland.