Jan. ’11 Article in IP

New Year, a brave new future.

Well the budget has come and gone and for the first time in a number of years there was no outright attack on pharmacists. A few side ways digs at professionals generally but as they say in the Mafia “Nothing personal, it’s just business.”
So I was thinking that maybe we as pharmacists could start 2011 on a positive note. After two of what has been the hardest years of my professional life I’m still here and I’m still kicking. So what is there to look forward to in 2011?
Well for starters Harney will be gone soon enough. Not that I have anything against her personally, I’ve never met her (probably just as well some might say.) But as they say in the Mafia “Nothing personal, it’s just business.” I find it slightly incongruous that a right wing politician who favours light touch regulation has presided over the formation of a new PSI with one of the heaviest hands of regulation in many a long time. I get the feeling from Ambrosia and the PSI that they would be able to regulate a perfect pharmacy would if it wasn’t for all those pesky pharmacists. It might be appreciated more if the PSI gave out a clear statement of where they see/want to see community pharmacy heading. Two pharmacists on duty at any given time, totally private consultation areas, (lets not get into chaperoning and child protection issues), 24 hour on call rotas (because you never know when you might need a lipstick or shampoo) or maybe a proper form of licensing based on geographic spread or population distribution. But of course to do all this they would need regulations not guidelines. Now I have not been a student of government or legal models but I have a good idea of how the Irish state ideally functions. The Dáil passes laws, the relevant Minister signs the regulations and the Courts interpret them. There is nowhere in there for a regulator to issue guide lines. If the regulator thinks that you have breached the regulations then they can take you to court via the appropriate channels and have you judged upon. Guidelines would be based on court interpretations. There is nothing in the pharmacy legislation saying that the Regulator should act like a school yard bully. “If you don’t do things my way then I’m taking my ball home.” How do you deal with a bully? You stand up to them. You have to be prepared to take a punch or two but as soon as the bully realises that they have somebody who punches back they usually run away shouting more threats as then do. And I think that this will be one of the positives of 2011. But for it to be a great positive we will all have to stand by each other. Ambrosia has made no secret that he wants to build up a legal fighting fund of circa €2 million. Out of our pockets I might add. When, and not if he takes somebody to court for breaching his guidelines (actually it will have to be for alleged breach of regulations but he won’t see it like that) we will have to support our colleague, financially and morally, in their stand against the bully.

Another possible positive for pharmacy is the fact that the country is so broke. There is very little scope left for their “slash, slash, cut & burn” style of looking for savings. The time has come to look at other ways of saving money. We will in all likelihood have a slightly different coloured government. Ideologically they will not be far from the current shower and because the IMF and EU will be running the show there will be very little different that they can do. However they will be keen to be seen as different. The first that immediately springs to mind is vaccinations. With the current over-crowding of surgeries and resultant delays what better way to improve the service to the public that allow pharmacists, properly trained of course, to administer routine vaccines with the minimum of fuss or delay. We would most likely do it cheaper than the docs but that would not be the main selling point. Long term getting into a price war with docs is a losing proposition but reducing the hassle for the public and just happening to save money for the state would be an easy selling point to a cash starved Dept. of Health. Pharmacists as a group have not been good at singing our own praises but now is not the time to hide our light. To this end I think that the current campaign by the IPU can only help to raise our profile. Next we will have to get politicians of all hues to see that a crisis is a time of opportunity rather than a time to panic. To this end to back up the IPU’s campaign we need to start cultivating politicians. Bear in mind that these folk for the most part consider it more important to attend somebodies funeral rather than try to establish a health service that would possibly delay the funeral for some time. Even if we feel like having a bath after meeting one we should still remember that under that slimy veneer they are still human.

So what’s my new year wish? I was thinking about this and trying to decide what would benefit community pharmacy most. A pharmacist for the next Minister for Health perhaps? That might be aiming a bit too high. And there is always the risk that he/she might become too much more a politician and less of a pharmacist as time passed. Another pie in the sky dream would be for the Irish Government to initiate the Canadian system whereby pharmacists vote on new regulations. And then it came to me. At Ambrosia’s next performance review a clause would be added to his terms of reference or job description. All his actions as well as being based on a proper legal basis would have to take account of (current) economic realities. We would all like to live in a world where there is an end to hunger, war and injustice. But it ain’t gonna happen any day soon. We have to live in the here and now. It would be nice to live in Ambrosia’s Shangri-La and in truth it is a nice place to aim for. Maybe now is the time to cultivate the politicians and let them know that the local pharmacy in the small village serving their constituency is at risk of closure because of Ambrosia’s dreamland. It won’t cost the exchequer anything to rein in Ambrosia’s dreams and might well win them some kudos from a beleaguered community.

Wishing you all the best for the new year and here’s hoping that we are all still here come next January.

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