Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Conference Season - and the Wurzel Gummidge moment

Over the years my time at the Lib Dem party conference has taken many different forms. 

I remember my first conference - in Brighton - as a day visitor. I knew no-one (other than from the virtual reality world of something called cix) but I soon made friends and really didn't want to go home! 

Needless to say I booked up for the next conference as soon as I could. I was determined to stay the whole week and determined to make my first conference speech. I was lucky and was called on the first card I submitted but it may have helped that I opted to speak in the graveyard slot on Thursday morning (after the Glee club which is like a very, very, boozy Scout/Guide campfire - but without the fire). Oh, and I also found a way of speaking against a motion which was obviously going to find widespread support. I shamelessly followed all the advice about getting called to speak and spoke against a motion saying that contraceptives should continue to be free. My main point was to point out all the anomalies in the existing prescription system and to call for a complete overhaul so my first speech brought together my worlds of pharmacy and politics. 

This was 1997. At the time I was the Town Mayor and had escaped to conference for a couple of days away from the strange political nomansland that Mayors inhabit. Who would notice?

I drove home in a hurry as I had to go shopping for a twinning present as I was off to Battenberg the next day. I vaguely registered the newstand posters proclaiming "Mayor in sex tax row" but assumed it was something to do with the Borough Mayor. I went into our lovely Abbey to buy a suitable twinning gift and the two lovely ladies who helped me choose told me how much they had agreed with what I had said. I smiled and nodded benignly because those who have attended a political party conference will realise that by the end of it most delegates need sleep and a detox. I didn't fully understand that my little speech had become news until I arrived home to find a slightly worried looking son(about 11 at the time) saying, "Don't worry mum - it's only about the pill!'

It was my first big lesson in politics. You should always assume that everything you utter could quickly become public. 

In subsequent years I made more friends and accessed a lot of training to develop my skills as a potential candidate but it was some time before I became confident enough to take the step of trying to become an approved candidate. 

My most surreal conference was in Spring 2000. I went to the conference knowing that I was the candidate in the Romsey by-election, following the sad death of Michael Colvin in a house fire. By some bizarre coincidence we had been in the middle of the selection procedure (for the 2001 election) when the tragedy happened but for obvious reasons had not been able to announce the result. At this conference I was granted a glimpse of things to come - of a world where I would be on show and my time would not be my own. 

In the summer of 2000 I attended my first conference as a Member of Parliament and a member of the Lib Dem health team. I did not know what had hit me because, as the new kid on the block, I was in demand. The day then started with breakfast meetings, followed by parliamentary briefings, speaking in fringes (often 2 or 3 in one slot), whips for crucial conference votes, platform speeches and meetings, meetings, meetings. It was also the first time I had seen many of the by election helpers again so by the end of the conference I was almost hoarse and can vaguely remember screeching my way through "Losing Deposits" with JAckie Ballard at the Glee Club. 

Conferences in my 10 years as an MP were always busy and I was nearly always hoarse by the end but the real low point was when I had the "Women" brief and the party debated its selection procedures for Europe. I won't bore people with the details but, for me, it was the most depressing conference ever and by the end of it I felt I had found out who my friends were. 

The first conference after the 2010 election was truly horrible and the only saving grace was that it was in Liverpool. I only stayed for a couple of days because my mum had just died - but maybe that gave me the excuse to slope away. There were lots of hugs and commiserations and it was a chance to catch up with old friends but at this stage I decided to stand for election to a couple of the party committees. 

I was elected to the Federal Conference Committee and this gave the next few conferences a completely different dimension. Suddenly I was in a world of agenda setting, help desks, Ministerial surgeries and learning how to chair conference debates which is rather more complex than you might think as you soon learn that Lib Dems love their standing orders and you have to try and be one step ahead. I have also been very keen to make sure that we debate the hot issues of the day (such as the Health and Social Care Bill) and not sweep them under the carpet. I've really enjoyed the last few conferences though as there has been work to do but I haven't ended up completely shattered and without a voice. 

Now we get to the pharmacy bit (if any pharmacists have lasted this far). At this year's conference in Brighton I had been asked to speak at two fringe events on behalf of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (I'm an English Pharmacy Board member). I had previously spoken at similar events in my role as a member of the Lib Dem Health Team. 

There were two fringes. The first was public health on trial - shared with the gastroenterologists and the opticians and we had to defend ourselves against the accusation that we had failed to deliver public health. There was also a speaker from local government, which is very appropriate as local government will play a big part in the commissioning of health services. I was pleased with the outcome as the audience decided that the health professionals were not guilty of not delivering and I have to say that the political audience did somewhat realise that the problems lay with the lack of funding and foresight displayed by politicians. The high spot for me was when Baroness Jolly said that pharmacists could hold their heads up high when it came to delivering on public health. 

The second debate was shared with Baroness Young from Diabetes Uk and Clare Gerada from the Royal College of GPs. It was a fantastically, lively fringe and the room was packed with many people forced to stand. Clare G was typically robust but there was consensus around access to care records and some rather unexpected support from representatives of the Dispensing Doctors Association and a couple of GPs in the audience who wanted to work out how to make more of pharmacists. 

There was a moment in the discussion when I could not make a pharmacy point as the question was not relevant but there was a political point to be made. When you have an answer to a question it is difficult for a politician to be silent but as the point was not overtly party political I felt justified in commenting by telling the audience that in true Gummidge mode I was removing pharmacy head and putting on a politician's head!

The session was ably and robustly chaired by Lord Victor Abedowale who is a member of the National Commissioning Board. I was delighted when he came up to me afterwards and told me that he thought many of my comments had been spot on and it had made him realise that "we need to make better use of pharmacists".

I am still following two slightly different paths although at the moment I only have one head. At a party level I am standing for re-election to the Federal Conference Committee and at another level I am busy responding to many of the people I spoke to at conference and reminding them what pharmacy can do or how pharmacy can work positively with their organisation.  Hopefully, both will be productive.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

RPS Conference

I'll come clean - as Board members we do get a reduced rate but we do not get all our expenses covered unless we are chairing a session or speaking in some capacity. 

The venue this year was Birmingham - something of a change from the London campuses of recent years  - and I have to say that I much preferred it. It was possible to find a relatively cheap hotel, although I wasn't sure I wanted to be quite so close to something called the Rocket club, and transport links are fairly good. 

I know that Birmingham is also a pretty good shopping centre but I resisted the temptation to bunk off because, as a board member, I thought it was important to access as much of the conference as possible and also to speak to as many people as possible. 

I'm not going to give a blow by blow account but there are some highlights worthy of mention.   The whole event got off to a flying start with an innovative and energising presentation from Professor Eddie Obeng. He managed to get delegates interacting with each other and provided much food for thought and my only criticism was that the session was too short. My other personal highlight was the speech given by David Nicholson, Chief Exec of the NHS Commissioning Board. His speech was entirely without notes and he gave the clear message that we should be doing more to make sure that we were an indispensable part of the commissioning landscape. He clearly understood the contribution that pharmacy can make but wasn't going to spoonfeed the profession. 

There were a host of other presentations but I did wonder on some occasions whether we had the right format. In some sessions we had four loosely connected presentations and although there were questions after there was not really any scope for a wider debate. I may be the oddball here because I am used to the party conference format where there is a bit more of a free for all discussion after presentations so I will be particularly interested in the conference feedback. 

One thing I did note was the absence of some of the great and good. Looking through the attendance list I was surprised not to see some of the more well known names from the Corporate sector although the NPA were well represented. That said, I think there is a challenge for all of us in trying to attract more people. I, for one, got a lot out of the sessions and I know that other community pharmacists would benefit. So, why don't more people come? There is a cost but, in the grand scheme  of things, it is not onerous. So, is the content wrong or would attendance still be low whatever we did to improve things? Answers on a postcard please.........

Meet the pre regs - Great Western LPF

Each board member is allocated a Local Practice Forum or two (or even three) and the idea is that we provide a link to the English Pharmacy Board. Boards also have a dedicated administrator so, in theory, there should be plenty of linkage between the RPS and its members. 

Being the new girl I did not get my first choice but I was happy to be allocated Great Western as it is not that far away and I studied at Bath. I was a little more concerned about being allocated Peninsula (Devon and Cornwall) but this was because the physical distance means that it is less easy to actively keep in touch in the hands on way I would prefer. Having said that though, it's not all bad because hopefully I can combine the occasional visit with a catch up with some of my mates in that region. 

So, I was quite pleased when I realised that I could actually make the social event in Bristol to which all the pre reg students were invited along to meet the steering group. The aim was to try and engage and also to encourage the students to sign up as associate members of the RPS. 

So, I chatted to some of the attendees and asked why they had come. Some mentioned that free food and drink is always good and I reflected that this is an adage which seems to ring true for students, conference attendees and even MPs. Flippancy aside, it was clear that many of the attendees wanted to become involved in shaping the profession and were already associate members of the RPS. Even more encouragingly, some of the steering group were still well within the first flush of youth which helped to make the whole thing more relevant. 

I had headed for the event thinking that I would be making a short presentation on the benefits of joining the RPS but Phil Rogers had other ideas and with a few moments to spare he told me that he wanted me to "say something inspirational". This is not always the easiest thing to do at the drop of a hat if you want to make it relevant and want to avoid sounding cheesy but I picked up on a few of the things the students had mentioned, tried to make it humorous and tried to leave things on a positive note. Hopefully it worked and I captured the moment and it would be great to feel that someone was a teensy bit inspired.  As I write this I recall an occasion when I addressed a group of students who had just been handed their GCSE certificates. I spoke about being true to yourself and if you knew you were doing something that was't right for you then only you had the power to change it, It was OK at the time but a couple of week's later I was hounded down in Waitrose by an irate mother shouting, "Mrs Gidley? I want a word with you!"  (It was always a bad sign if I was Mrs Gidley and not Sandra). It transpired that her son had taken my words to heart and completely changed his A levels telling them that the MP had told him it was OK!. I asked what the problem was and it seemed to boil down to the fact that parents preferred the academic first choice rather than the arty preferences of their son. I asked if he was happy. The mother looked at me blankly and I repeated the question. "Well," she replied, "I suppose he is at least going to college now and not bunking off!" I do not know the longer term outcome of the story and will never know if the young man felt he had made the right choice but it can be quite powerful knowing that your words gave someone the confidence to do something. I hope that in some small way I gave someone some confidence that night. 

There is a prologue to this event. I had decided to travel down by train, mainly because I don't like driving alone at night in strange cities. I was assured that I would be back at the station in time to catch the last train home. Unfortunately the event overran slightly (not me - honest!) and my lift still had to pack some things up so a very kind lady offered me a lift to the station. Unfortunately, she was parked a little further away than we had bargained for and despite taking my shoes off so I could trot along more easily I missed the train by a couple of minutes. This meant I had to take the next train to Salisbury followed by a very expensive taxi ride home. So much for my attempt to be more green!

Friday, 10 August 2012

So, what _do_ people want from the RPS?

Once a week I have the luxury of working with a second pharmacist and I nearly always ask them whether they belong to the RPS. Sadly, most don't and a sheepish "no" is usually rapidly followed by a permutation of the following

"I belong to the PDA because I know they will help me if things go wrong"

"I can get the information I want by calling the NPA"

"I can't see what value I get from it"

"They've never done much for me"

"Now that locum rates are going down I have to think hard about expenditure" - one locum followed this up by saying that times were so hard he could no longer afford to shop in Tesco and would have to go to Asda!

So, I then ask what the society needs to do to persuade them to join and, sadly, I never really receive an answer. 

I was thinking about this the other day after a conference call with Howard Duff, the Director for England. The reason for the call was to discuss the future work plan and he was seeking ideas prior to the strategy day at which the priorities will be set. 

I realised I was probably thinking a little too strategically and broad brush when he said to me, "What I really want are some smart objectives. Some pieces of work that have a tangible outcome and benefit members and potential members"

It's a deceptively simple question because many of my first thoughts were already being taken on by others. For example, educational matters are the province of CPPE, although LPCs are getting in on the act and many companies provide ongoing training. Workplace pressures are being tackled by some of the "Just Culture" work although most pharmacists I speak to are completely unfamiliar with the phrase and concept and it is often hard to measure the impact of an individual organisation's lobbying. 

I've become very exercised by some of the issues I discover on a day to day basis in the areas of "transfer of care" and monitored dosage systems but it is not clear what precise actions the RPS can take to build on the recently produced "Transfer of Care" Document although it did strike me that a definitive guide to pros and cons of MDS and other aids to patient compliance would probably help reduce bad practice - if everyone read it. So, I am giving the matter some thought over the weekend but if you have an answer to the question:

"Name one thing/resource the RPS could do" 

let me have your ideas and I promise I will feed them into the process. 

Monday, 23 July 2012

Media Strategy Day -

Dear Reader

I did promise to keep you informed about what I (and the Board) was doing on your behalf but at the risk of sounding like Fifty Shades of the Pharmacy Board I have to tell you that today my hands are tied. 

Some of the board members met today for a strategy meeting which focussed mainly on the media but at the outset of the meeting we were told that it was commercial in confidence. 

Actually, there weren't that many parts of the meeting which I thought were that sensitive but it is a fact that board members do have to be able to trust each other in these situations. 

So, as we all stood on a platform of increased openness I assume that this was a "one-off" and I will respect the agreement made at the beginning of the meeting. If this is not a one off then you will be informed _ and I will feel free to challenge future reporting restrictions!

Selling the Family Silver - part 2

My earlier post about the potential sale of the RPS building at Lambeth appears to have ruffled a few feathers but all I will say is that my account was factually accurate and the only people who objected were those who were not privy to the conversations I had.

But, it is only fair to add to my earlier comments following a briefing I had earlier today. As I said in my earlier blog post no decision has yet been made although the matter is up for discussion at this week's Assembly meeting. 

The situation is quite straightforward. The GPhC agreed to share the building for two years and have extended the contract to 2014 (although there will be changes with respect to the parts of the building they occupy). 

The RPS is a much leaner organisation than the old RPSGB and cannot afford to be the sole occupants of the building. The options would appear to be to try and market the space for functions, to find alternative tenants or to sell and look for more appropriate accommodation. 

I must stress that no decision has yet been made but I did notice when I came into London on the train that there is a lot of empty office space in the area so it is difficult to see how realistic it will be to find suitable tenants for the building. 

But, at the end of the day, how many pharmacists actually feel any sort of bond with the Lambeth HQ? One of the best kept secrets is that all members can use the rooftop restaurant but few members avail themselves of this facility. 

So, if the RPS can find more appropriate London based accommodation (and preferably buy it) and we can ensure that we retain the museum collection would anybody actually care? 

The old RPSGB moved from Bloomsbury in the 1970s (I think - although it may have been early 1980s) and the world didn't end. 

What's in a building? I used to do a lot of work with the NCT and they moved from pukka Bloomsbury premises to Acton and the organisation has gone from strength to strength. The ABPI has recently moved to smaller offices and at the same time has a newly invigorated profile. 

It will, however, be interesting to see what the assembly decide.........

Sunday, 22 July 2012

What is an acceptable workload for a pharmacist?

I had an 11 year gap in practice and one of the big changes is the increase in the number of unqualified staff in management positions and, in some ways, the demotion of the pharmacist to what can only be regarded as "a legal necessity". 

I was told last week that it was not unreasonable for a pharmacist to be able to check 600 prescriptions plus carry out two MURs a day and deal with NMS, counter queries, register entries etc. I work for 510 minutes a day so the checking etc has to be at the rate of less than one item a minute. I generally "cope" with this but quite a lot of pharmacists leave a lot of work to be picked up the next day and when I am one down in the dispensary not all runs as smoothly as I would like. But, if I am honest, I am not providing the sort of service I really want to and the area that is skimped on becomes the customer facing aspect of the job which is the one I like best. 

I mention this because RPS is very interested in workplace pressures and this has been identified by the Board as a priority issue. If pharmacists are stretched like this there are a number of questions to be asked. The first is to ask whether it is safe? The second is to ask how on earth new services will fit into the equation. That's before you even start to think about whether best use is being made of the pharmacist's time and skills. 

But this is not a matter for the RPS alone and the GPhC should be starting to define what is an acceptable and safe load for a community pharmacist. The PSNC should then be working to make sure that these standards are worked into the payment system. 

I would be interested to hear the views of others on this subject so please contact me on