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Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee

General News

PSNC - the word from your committee members

This month, Mark Burdon, independent contractor and PSNC regional representative for the North Eastern region, talks about his time on PSNC and some of the ongoing challenges facing contractors.

How long have you been on PSNC?

I was elected to PSNC as the regional representative for the North eastern region in 2006 and I now chair the Resource Development and Finance (RDF) subcommittee.

So what does the RDF subcommittee do?

The Resource Development and Finance subcommittee is made up of all four PSNC subcommittee chairs along with other members of PSNC to ensure that all sectors are represented, and we provide financial oversight of all of PSNC’s activities. Much of PSNC’s funding comes from contractors via LPC levies and it is our job to make sure, for both ourselves and all other contractors, that we’re getting the very best value out of their investment. We also try to find external sources of income for PSNC – in the current financial climate that is not particularly easy to do, but another member of PSNC, Kirit Patel, of Day Lewis, is now leading a work stream on it for us.

What do you enjoy most about being on PSNC?

Well we certainly don’t do this for money and we don’t do it for praise! It’s also difficult balancing the work with my day to day business responsibilities and family life. But as with so many things, you get out of it what you put in – I’ve tried to be very involved in lots of the committee’s work and it’s great when we have a success and can really feel like we have done something good for community pharmacy.

And what have been your favourite projects during your time on the committee?

I think my favourite thing to work on was the New Medicine service (NMS). It was quite an achievement to get that commissioned in the current financial climate and all of the development was done within a pretty tight timescale. It wasn’t perfect when we first released it, but now I think we have got it right and it’s proving a real success as the PharmOutcomes data showed last year. It’s great to be able to show the NHS the impact we can make in terms of cost savings and improved outcomes, and it’s also a service that I really enjoy providing – it has been a real hit with patients.

I’m also really enjoying seeing the results of projects for which I have worked through the budgeting, such as changes to the PSNC staffing structure and the move of the office from Aylesbury to London – it’s been quite a transformation for the team.

What would you say to contractors who don’t think PSNC is doing a good job?

When I joined PSNC I was very surprised at how forward-thinking my fellow committee members were. I had this image of them all being dinosaurs, but in fact they are successful community pharmacy business owners working hard to make a real difference both for themselves and for the sector as a whole, and coming up with some innovative ideas about how to do that.

But I think PSNC’s great strength comes from the fact that it really is a committee representing all contractors fairly. It’s a big responsibility, but as a committee we make all major decisions collectively and everyone gets to have their say – there really are no secrets in PSNC, despite what some people might think.

Independents and multiples are represented equally and I think it’s a real benefit that we are able to go into the important negotiations acting as a representative for the entire sector rather than following a model like other healthcare providers where that representation is done by lots of smaller groups all with their own interests.

And how do you feel about the ongoing funding negotiations?

I’m not involved in all of the detailed conversations being held by the negotiating team but all members of the committee have a big role to play in discussing key issues and overseeing the negotiations. Of course as a contractor it is frustrating that we haven’t been able to get a settlement yet, but I do believe it is important that we take the time to get the right settlement. The contractors on PSNC are feeling the same pain as everyone else, but we can’t afford to do this too quickly and get it wrong, and we do need to try to secure a multi-year settlement to future proof funding.

I think one of the other things many people don’t realise about our work is that settling funding really does involve negotiations. The NHS has a lot of power as our paymaster and it will only pay for what it wants to pay for – we can’t simply walk in and decide what we want to deliver and for how much, we have to go in and negotiate, and as with all negotiations, that means building up rigorous arguments and, at some points, making difficult choices.

PSNC does come in for criticism for its negotiating style but while it may seem attractive to enter negotiations aggressively, this has its problems, as GPs look set to find out soon. I believe the more collaborative approach we use in discussions with the DH is the best strategy and it has been productive, with pharmacy being taken seriously as credible providers. Of course there are occasions where it is necessary to be robust, and we are not afraid to do this –  we do have to take the hard line sometimes.

Do you have any advice for contractors at the moment?

One of the biggest gripes for many contractors is funding flows, so I would say make sure you are learning the lessons from the last seven years on this. Look at your annual finances to see when the majority of your income comes and plan your business expenditure accordingly so that you’re not exposed to any unnecessary risks. The NHS is also going through major changes and financial problems at the moment so we’re going to feel the strain along with everyone else.

A real challenge for pharmacy is going to be ensuring that it is interacting effectively with the new commissioners. That’s a big job for LPCs, but I would also advise contractors to try to keep up with developments – read your LPC newsletters and check the PSNC website so you know you are keeping in touch and doing the right things.

Posted 20 February 2013

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