It’s that difficult second album time for the peerless Mr Dispenser.

It’s been nearly a year since I was asked to review his first book and a lot has changed since then.  I’ve got older while it seems pre-reg’s have got younger, and the category M pot has become negatively correlated to pharmacy work-targets.  How could this book keep up with all this, did it need to, and most importantly would it make me laugh so hard that it hurt for a day afterwards?

You see, after the success of his first book it’s wouldn’t be enough for ‘Techs, Drugs and Birth Control’ to be a middle-of-the-road 3-star offering so when I first opened it I knew my review could go only one of two ways: ecstatic relief over an accomplished second release or crushing disappointment such that I’d be reaching for the Twitter block button.

But before I tell you what I think, I just need to put something out there. I’m genuinely worried about Mr Dispenser’s serious pen fixation. There. I said it. I’ll continue…

So did this book live up to my hopes and expectations?  Damn right it did, and once again I’m reminded what an honour it is to be working in the profession of pharmacy. As Mr Dispenser says himself, this is “‘OUR’ book” – members of the profession and our colleagues using social media to share the good times, lament the bad and celebrate the great.

For me that is this book’s greatest strength: I can go from wetting myself with laughter (Apprentice pharmacy clichés) to genuinely reflecting on previous experiences (Perils of the language barrier) and be left wondering how I can improve the experience of my patients now (except for those patients so well described in Deliveries).  But don’t worry – it’s mostly something to smile and laugh about: The show must go on is genius, but not as much as 9-5, and the Star Wars guide to pharmacy is brilliant with a generous helping of geek…and what makes all these so good is that despite being on Twitter most of my working day I had missed these conversations so it was all fresh.

A recent HSJ article described how a trust prepared medical students for on-call shifts using video-game simulations that had tasks appear with the same frequency and location as a real shift: if pharmacy wants something similar it can save itself a load of hassle and money by making this book (and its predecessor) recommended reading on the MPharm.  The Life of a Pharmacy Student by Sophie Khatib is enlightening, and whilst sections like Alternative OSCE and How to annoy your pharmacist are all written tongue in cheek there are some truths in there that will well prepare students for those realities not covered in the syllabus.  Helen Root’s Pharmacy guide to speed dating is great and there are some real pharmacy practice gems in there too, notably from Xrayser and Wee Neldo.  In addition it’s great to be able to get an insight into some of the higher machinations of pharmacy development thanks to John D’Arcy.

At this point I want to go on. I want to give you examples and snippets and quotes of all my favourite bits, but if I do, there won’t be much point in you buying this book because most of it would be replicated here. And you should buy it. Not only are 5% of proceeds once again going to the charity Pharmacist Support but it’s something that’s worth parting with your hard earned cash for.

Besides, it’s nearly Christmas (well, kind of…) and surely you know someone who would benefit from truly knowing about what you do as a pharmacist, or what they will be doing when they qualify?  And as it’s nearly Christmas I will leave you with just one of my favourite bits: read 12 days of pharmacy and I guarantee that for the rest of eternity, you’ll only ever sing “FIVE E – H – C’s” like this

So go on: treat yourself and get the book either for Kindle or paperback: you won’t be disappointed.



A while ago I thought it’d be a great idea to spend a long weekend camping in the New Forest with my 3 year-old Little’un, and my manicure & hair-straightener loving wife.  That weekend has now arrived, and I’m wondering what the ‘great’ bits will be…

Unless I break early from cabin-fever I’ll be back at e-mails on Tuesday 6th August so please be patient; otherwise if you’ve got something urgent that can be answered by another pharmacist then please call Nikki on x.

Pity the fool…



A tweet earlier today got my blog reflex twitching over retail pharmacy, and the difficult balance it has providing quality patient care against  generating sufficient profit (or breaking even) in a pressured economy.  Added to this was the recent PJ article on the new RPS multi-compartment compliance aid guidance which in the opening column mentioned the business pressure that’s led to an increase in their use.

I’ve blogged before about such devices (and delusionally imagine the RPS read it before writing their guidance) and I’ve obviously no problems with business turning a profit, but I remain worried that the professionals working in this sector may be forced to lose its way over time; the PDA are usually ludicrously over-dramatic in their reporting, but the ‘perfect storm’ scenario isn’t an unreasonable extrapolation.

But as I went to blog proper about this I was reminded of something I wrote three years ago that was published in the PJ, and thought that I would instead post that.

I know it won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and I know a whole bunch of decent pharmacists on Twitter that this definitely does not apply to, but still felt it was worth being dusted off: we’ve moved on from some points, but some of it still chimes relevance with the current situation.

Who knows – maybe in another three years I’ll post it once again so we can see how much further we’ve all come. See you in 2016?

Perhaps “retail pharmacy” is a better descriptor than community pharmacy.  By James Andrews

Fri, 18/06/2010.  The Pharmaceutical Journal2010;284:604

I agree with the points of the Broad spectrum by Blenkinsopp and Bond entitled “Another reason for telling colleagues about pharmacy services that work” (PJ, 22 May 2010, p500), but there is one aspect of the BMJ article they refer to that remains unaddressed.

Richardson and Pollock concluded that recent change has “allowed the dominance of large corporate providers, which has implications for service provision that are not well understood in the UK, and which could undermine attempts at expanding pharmacists’ professional role”. I believe this is a key aspect of practice that deserves examination.

Perhaps community pharmacy may no longer be seen by others as a profession, and that the term itself may be misleading. What is not questioned though is the professionalism of the individuals working in this sector, of which I am one.

I see constant examples of pharmacists providing quality patient care in demanding and stressful working conditions, and the non-pharmacists I work with in primary care regard them as hard-working experts in their field. However, there remains the intimation that changes to practice are doing our professional image no good.

The many definitions of  “profession” tend to describe a group of qualified autonomous individuals, trusted to apply their responsibility and expertise to the benefit of others. However, in a dispensary operating for a large multiple, today’s focus appears to be on corporate financial benefit rather than the benefit of others.

Previously, I have described the pressure I was subjected to by an area manager into performing medicines use reviews outside corporate procedure and legislation (PJ, 27 March 2010, p315). This was a partial description written in conjunction with a grievance case I raised. In reality, the conversation was wider ranging and more personally focused than I reported.

Continuing PJ correspondence suggests this is not an exceptional circumstance, with the Pharmacists’ Defence Association reporting that pharmacists are under such pressure to deliver results they resort to fraudulent behaviour.

A brief review of my employer’s online pharmacist forum reveals descriptions of “bumping up” figures by claiming MUR intervention payments for confirming a patient’s international normalised ratio level before dispensing warfarin even when no intervention follows.

Other pharmacists on the forum describe having to allow disturbances while conducting MURs so they can check prescriptions or answer queries without fear of under-achieving company-dictated customer satisfaction and waiting time targets.

It is right to aspire to give patients a quality service and I have no discomfort with profitability within healthcare services, but there is only so far a professional should take this. None of these scenarios describes a profession and, when pharmacists feel they have no option but to forgo their autonomy and professionalism to chase targets contrary to their code of ethics, we must all ask why this is the case.

The responsible pharmacist legislation should empower us all to do something about the demise of our autonomy but, in practice, this does not appear to be happening.

We have taken on responsibility previously held only by well remunerated superintendent pharmacists, but have received no recognition of this from our employers, apart from the expectation we use the two-hour allowable absence for rest breaks, during which we must remain contactable to allow continued trading in defiance of safe practice and European legislation.

Challenges to this disregard are heavily resisted by employers so we are left in a position of ultimate responsibility with no employer acknowledgement within our terms and conditions.

The case of Elizabeth Lee (PJ, 11 April 2009, p401) highlights how corporate employers might use the responsible pharmacist Regulations to avoid culpability for an error regardless of the underlying situation of staffing level, pressure to achieve targets and rest breaks, over which the individual pharmacist involved has little or no control.

In practice, it now seems difficult for a community pharmacist working for a large multiple to practise in a way that allows the autonomy expected within a profession, and this situation is likely to become more difficult in companies that delegate accountability for pharmacy clinical governance to non-pharmacist managers as a result of restructure.

Based on the Royal Pharmaceutical Society description, this means that, for me, the safe and clinically effective running of the pharmacy will rest with a non-pharmacist store manager and non-pharmacist area manager, either of whom, as a non-pharmacist, may put targets and profit before safe practice.

It is difficult to reconcile this move with the ethos of the responsible pharmacist legislation, adding justification to the European Court of Justice warning that “operation of a pharmacy by a non-pharmacist may represent a risk to public health” (PJ, 23 May 2009, p604).

The job of supporting pharmacists with professional issues now falls to the new professional body. For a body committed to responding actively to our needs, its silence on the pages of the PJ regarding pressures and stress over MUR targets is disappointing but not surprising given that it is likely to have a sizeable proportion of its future funding from joining fees paid by large multiples.

The suggestion of Richardson and Pollock that commercial interests may undermine the professional role of pharmacists seems timely, and the historical lack of drive to gather and publicise evidence to the contrary highlighted by Blenkinsopp and Bond has left community pharmacy in a difficult and indefensible position.

At this fresh time in the political world, a strong pharmacy voice could make a massive difference to the professional standing of all pharmacy sectors by highlighting their ability to deliver quality patient care individually and as an integrated whole, but current isolation and a lack of cohesion will remain if the needs of patients and pharmacists are overlooked by our leaders for corporate benefit.

The new health secretary’s announcement that changes to the NHS must be evidence based and supported by GP commissioners may make integration of community pharmacy services into real patient care pathways more difficult, with a danger that our only function becomes medicines supply.

The description of the prescription factories of the high street and large out-of-town pharmacies miles from the nearest house as “community” pharmacies appears a misnomer at a time when the NHS is rightly moving more services closer to patients. In practice, “community” services are delivered by multidisciplinary teams providing care directly to patients within an integrated care pathway.

These pathways should formally include community pharmacy, but do not. Next time you are at work, consult your manager or corporate documentation to see who they think benefits from your application of expertise. If the answer is customers rather than patients, then perhaps “retail pharmacy” is the better descriptor.


Ladies and gentlemen!  It’s a genuine pleasure to be hosting a blog from the brilliant & knowledgeable @cathrynjbrown…. 

blog photo use


Safe supply of pharmacy medicines

My thoughts on this have changed, it took a while, but I have been convinced that a total prohibition on open display is not the way to ensure safe supply of pharmacy medicines in the 21st century.

A few things; this removal of the proscription on having pharmacy medicines on open display is part of a whole new suite of standards for pharmacy premises. They are a move away from strict rules which can act as a brake to innovation. The evidence on medicines on open supply is slight, but a total prohibition is not going to help the collection of such evidence. Some people are concerned about the nature of these standards, which are broad, but as professionals we should be able to work within grey areas.

The standard itself, and indeed the whole of principle 4, highlight the importance of treating medicines as special and not just ordinary items of commerce.  And none of these standards remove the necessity for pharmacy medicines to be sold or supplied under the supervision of a pharmacist.

4.3 Medicines and medical devices are:

  • obtained from a reputable source
  • safe and fit for purpose
  • stored securely
  • safeguarded from unauthorised access
  • supplied to the patient safely
  • disposed of safely and securely

We are in an internet age, for good or ill, and as such patients and customers have access to massive amounts of information about medicines and medical conditions compared with the past. They also have easy access to pharmacy medicines there; both from regulated and unregulated websites (don’t get me started…). Why then, once they come into a pharmacy do we treat them as children and not allow them to touch the box until we’ve decided it’s right for them? When I’ve spoken with members of the public about this, they are evenly split; with younger people wanting to make their own choices, versus older people who want to rely more on the judgement of a professional.

Some pharmacists are concerned about open display of drugs of abuse, I am concerned too, but hope that we can rely on the judgement of pharmacy superintendents, who are our fellow professionals, to store and display these safely such that members of the public won’t be harmed. I think that early adopters of any change will be closely monitored, both by the GPhC and by the pharmacy media to see that no harm comes to any patients who are able to choose their own medicines.

People are concerned about the quality of interaction between a patient who might have made a choice to buy something, and the pharmacist or staff member at the till. I know that the Which? report didn’t give us a shining review, but I believe we can train our staff such that they are able to help patients get the right treatment or referral. We also need to trust our staff to be able to do the right thing by our patients, and if we don’t feel able to do that, are we letting both our colleagues and patients down? If the presence of a physical barrier between a patient and a medicine is the only thing keeping them safe, I think we have more things to worry about than just where items are displayed.

This is most likely to work safely and effectively in pharmacies where the only tills are in the pharmacy area, or where every member of the team is trained as a medicines counter assistant or to a higher level. As such supermarkets are unlikely to be early adopters of this, pharmacy is only a small part of their business and the capital investment required is likely to put them off. Also, only small areas of supermarkets are registered, and the confusion around which tills can be used would not lead to good customer experiences. The same would apply in a lot of larger pharmacy premises, unless the areas are very proactively staffed.

A few final thoughts; yes, patients feel like it’s theirs once it’s in their hand, but we have to take it off them to scan it through the till anyway. If they refuse to give it to us, and plan on leaving the shop with it, that’s shoplifting and there are rules against that sort of thing. Yes, some patients can be aggressive, but we don’t have to serve everybody, if you are unhappy with a patient’s behaviour, ask them to leave, or call the police. Yes, patients lie, but they always have and will. Possibly beginning to treat them like adults when they are managing their own symptoms might start to reduce this.

I have worked in pharmacies where this could work and pharmacies where it definitely wouldn’t. My hope is that this leads to better interactions between patients and pharmacy staff, and hopefully more visibility of pharmacists.



It’s noted that we are officially in a heatwave and that expert advice is for people to regularly drink cold drinks like water or fruit juice, and to avoid alcohol.

Whilst I will give this important advice all due regard, it’s the third weekend of July and as such I will be attending the Kent Beer Festival for the thirteenth consecutive year, regularly drinking luke warm beer and avoiding cold drinks like water or fruit juice.

I’m back and will be responding to e-mails – dehydration permitting – on Tuesday 23rd July.





Two tweets have finally spurred me into writing a blog; every week I think about a subject I want to talk about, and every week something gets in my way of doing it (usually work/beer).  The tweets in question came first from @TheMMP1, the second from @EPSPharmacist (both of whom I found to be thoroughly nice blokes at the RPS & GPhC’s Which? event): the first got me thinking about the future of retail then the second had me daydreaming whilst parked up on the M3 that if I were the one true God of Pharmacy and felt it was time to start it all afresh – which I get the impression it probably is – what would I want it to look like at the finish…

And aptaim smelled the sweet savour; and aptaim said in His heart: ‘I will not again curse the ground any more for pharmacy’s sake; for the imagination of pharmacy’s heart is evil from its youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While pharmacy remaineth, prescriptions and dispensing, and counselling and services, and medicines and appliances, and 100-hour premises shall not cease…

On the first day I will create a retail pharmacy from which patients will mostly get public health advice and a fully running minor ailment scheme from.  They’ll also get regular ongoing management of long term conditions heavily based around adherence to therapy, including support with newly prescribed medicines either from GP or hospital, made easier with access to the patient’s SCR.  Funding will be about half from joint health and social care budgets directed by the health and wellbeing boards, the rest from prescription volume. The pharmacists won’t be prescribers, but the medicines on sale will all be strictly evidence based and either GSL or a new pharmacist-only category of medicines that require an initial consultation and regular checks for ongoing supply: think oral contraceptives.

On the second day I will create GP practices that’ll have pharmacists and technicians in the background managing the governance, safety and clinical effectiveness of the prescribing.  Advising, supporting the prescribers, both doctor and nurse, and giving specific training as needed.  They’d mostly be employees of the CCG, paid for from running costs not budget top-slices, and they’d be deployed to practices as determined by risk and need.  That said, some practice will think to employ their own from LES monies to get the service they want.

On the third day, hospitals will be built where patients will see specialist clinical pharmacists, all prescribers, able to support their medicines taking from admission to discharge.  They’d be specifically responsible for ensuring accurate medicines information is passed on to the patient’s GP practice, and the retail pharmacy nominated by the patient for their EPS.  They’ll work alongside clinical leads, ensuring evidence based practice is applied in a way that suits the patient so that they can self-administer at all times possible on the wards, and be able to take their medicines without problem when they get home.  If they think there will be a problem, they’ll know who to call in the community to make sure the patient is well looked after post-discharge.

On the fourth day, I will command that community service providers will all have their own pharmacists and technicians, working between the primary and secondary care interfaces to ensure safe and appropriate use of medicines.  They will provide direct patient care on discharge, ensuring medicines are reconciled and appropriate, and manage issues directly with their GP practice, hospital and retail colleagues as necessary. Some may be prescribers, but it’s unlikely – and only where there’s a clear need, such as in mental health trusts or services.  They will also be responsible for the ongoing safe and secure use of medicines in those services without direct pharmacist contact – urgent treatment centres, and children’s or community nursing for example.

And on the fifth day I will see to it that supporting all of these areas will be academic pharmacists, continuing to ensure a sound evidence base to future developments, and support the decommissioning of services that are not delivering the expected patient outcomes.

Leaving two days, which isn’t too bad I think.  So what have I forgotten?

CSUs (for as long as they survive)? Sure we’ll find one pharmacist, maybe with a technician, here working on behalf of multiple CCGs spanning various geographies to ensure consistent commissioning of specialist medicines and management of new medicines as needed.

Area teams? Here I’m less convinced, certainly from a ‘pharmacy’ perspective, but this is more because of the shifting remits and structures. I was initially demanding that the structures have a pharmacist, but now I’m not convinced: what can they deliver that those listed above couldn’t?

Social care? There’s a definite need, but the sector is so closely matched to community services they’d be daft not to host a joint post where geography allows.

You may have also noticed I’ve not once used the word optimisation. That’s because all of these scenarios should deliver this without us needing to use the term: if it’s not delivering good patient outcomes from medicines then it needs to be decommissioned, period.  I’m fed up of getting hung up on terminology.

And aptaim said, “Let there be pharmacy,” and there was pharmacy. And aptaim saw that the pharmacy was good.

Of course, it’ll be when I hand it over to you mere mortals that it’ll fall apart again, won’t it?



Please don’t judge me, but I’ve abandoned my wife & child and headed off to Cornwall to see friends, catch some sun, drink beer and watch Eddie Izzard perform at the Eden Project.

I’ll be back on Wednesday 5 June but probably won’t get to e-mails until Friday.If you need a response before then please contact my PA Linda who will redirect your query accordingly.