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Pharmacy and Politics; Healthcare and Election

by Kazeem Olalekan

There is something important called the general election happening right now. On May the 6th (3 days from today), the citizens of the United Kingdom will elect one MP for each of the 650 constituencies to the House of Commons(1). There has been a lot of firsts in this election: The first televised series of three political debates, and this: my first honest public assessments of the three political parties. Bookapharmacist.com is apolitical but we believe politics is important: Politics is important in shaping the quality of service we deliver to our patients in my (our) NHS. I am writing this not to influence your vote (hence the short time lag between the election date and publication) but to reflect on what the main political parties have offered and are offering; impact on pharmacy and a glimpse at the future configuration of the NHS.

The Pharmacy vote

A lot might or might not have been made of the pharmacy vote. This is reminiscent of the Motorway Man (2) and the Wheelbarrow Student (sorry…next election!). It assumes, probably, that pharmacists are a homogeneous mix of voters. The actual fact is that my profession is made up of individuals who will vote on the basis of which political party will progress their personal, professional and patients’ interests in a joined up NHS. On this basis, there is no single pharmacy vote. On a personal level, I favour a progressive and fair system of government. Extreme left or extreme right views has almost always tended to be irrational. Arguments are and will be won from the centre. To my colleagues who are still undecided, the folks at Chemist and Druggist has have devoted a page to the election (3). You can assess what each political party will do for you and your profession. I have exercised my right and I hope you would too. I will expand on this later.

Everything but…

Haven analysed what the main political parties are offering on everything but pharmacy interest, I have arrived at a series of conclusions. Let us consider the economy: I have no doubt in my mind that the actions taken by the Labour party to stem the potential disaster of the economic crisis has been well considered and on point. We can thank Gordon Brown and his team for job well done…so far (albeit some minor faux pas). However, the unequivocal winner, in my humble opinion, is Mr Vince Cable of the Liberal democrat, whose knowledge and opinion is standing the test of time. He has guilelessly taken a series of positions which he is standing by. The question on my lips is this: would the politics of power have tempered his frankness on some of the issues? I sincerely hope not. The rise of Nick Clegg, as a direct consequence of the first televised debates, reminds me of an inspiring team, that swept into power more that 10years ago. If I don’t mention the war and some expectations unrealised by the current Labour government, then Nick Clegg/Vince Cable ticket is quite appealing to some extent. There is now the new look and dare I say progressive Conservative party. Under David Cameron, the party is moving from the extreme right to the centre, where arguments are won. When George Osborne mentioned the ‘C’ word earlier this year, he was chastised. It is now clear that he was being honest. There is going to be cuts…big cuts, whoever wins. As someone working within the healthcare service, this will be inevitable. What I ask for is fairness in the way this is done. We recognise this in Pharmacy and that is why in November last year our Pharmacy clinical directors published an article in our professional journal which stated: “Don’t let a good recession go to waste” (4). It was a call to us pharmacists to explore how we can do our bit in this toughest of all times for everyone including our patients. It is also clear from the report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) that none of the political parties are coming clean on the scale of tax rises (5). So Labour will ring-fence some vital services but proposes a rise in National Insurance and the Conservatives favours VAT and other tax rises. The actual fact is that a combination of measures will be needed to deal with the scale of the problem. I am no economist and I don’t claim to be one. I am simply a pharmacist within a NHS that I am proud of. The opinion expressed in this week’s leader in The Economist entitled: Who should govern Britain?, states: “But Mr Cameron is much closer to answering the main question facing Britain than either of his rivals is” (6). The leader concluded that “he(Mr Cameron) would get our(The Economist’s) vote”.

The Pharmacy Interest

I am always dubious about ‘the pharmacy interest’. The pharmacy interest that is not aligned to the NHS interest or our patient’s interest is no interest at all. So the pharmacy interest is the NHS interest. This election, more than any before, feels like a lot more attention is being paid to the pharmacy interest and role. This is encouraging because as pharmacists, we have an important job to do for our patients. I have been especially impressed with the special interest in Pharmacy by the Conservative party, under Mr David Cameron. ‘It has felt,’ according to my experienced colleague Miall James, that ‘Pharmacy has done best under Labour government'(7). A great measure of how the Conservative party is now responding to the interest of Pharmacy can be gleaned from the response of Pharmacy contractors at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) community pharmacy conference in Birmingham in March of this year. On the question of which government will best serve the Pharmacy interest, a Conservative government came out as a clear winner with 111 votes relative to 16 for Liberal Democrats and 32 for Labour (8). I also know that the Liberal Democrats has a Pharmacist MP, Sandra Gidley, for the Romsey constituency(9) – the only pharmacist MP I am aware of (I stand corrected). That said, my profession has experienced giant strides forward under the Labour government.

Where does that leave me?

Firstly, I have exercised my vote. I did that by post after watching the final of the series of three debates. I am reasonably satisfied with my choice. If you haven’t, I think you should. Apart from the three main parties, there is always the minority parties. I cannot tell you who I have voted for but I can assure you it wasn’t the BNP. It is the healthcare of my patients that I care passionately about and I employ whoever is elected not to squander some of the real positive progress that has been happening in the NHS over the past few years. There is still a lot to do to improve the system but change has to have a purpose: A clear purpose. Change for change’s sake is not enough. We need to build on what works for the sake of my patients. There is a rocky road ahead. And if the parliament is hung, like some commentators are predicting, then the different parties must work together on most issues. All parties working together on healthcare is not negotiable!

References

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_general_election,_2010
(2) http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/feb/07/motorway-man-election-winner
(3) http://www.chemistanddruggist.co.uk/election2010
(4) http://www.pjonline.com/content/interview_martin_stephens_jonathan_mason
(5) http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/apr/27/general-election-spending-cuts-ifs
(6) http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=16007299
(7) http://www.pjonline.com/news/conservative_government_has_best_pharmacy_proposals_according_to_conference_vote?page=#comment-2975
(8) http://www.pjonline.com/news/conservative_government_has_best_pharmacy_proposals_according_to_conference_vote
(9) http://www.sandragidley.org.uk/

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