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Who will be the pharmacist’s friend in Election 2020,
asks Ultan Molloy

As we settle into February, one can consider those New Year’s resolutions that may have gone by the wayside already. The stress of the Christmas period in retail always delivers, in spite of our best efforts to manage it. A modest increase in front-of-house turnover following a six-month run-in and disproportionate return on staff time. 

Perhaps it’s taking us further away from the core job of safe and effective medicines. We are no doubt weeks away from another study showing that the majority of customers who presented at the counter requesting a codeine-containing medicine were asked an inadequate amount of questions to ensure, as best as possible, that the medicine was going to be appropriately used. We can’t get it right all of the time of course, with the liars and the ‘just give it to me’ brigade, but that doesn’t mean we can abdicate our responsibility for patient care. 

Anyone reading this and thinking, ‘sure, they’ll just get it somewhere else’ may as well be suggesting that pharmacy-only medicines be available off the shelf in supermarkets. Yes, it’s easier not to collaborate with the visitor to the pharmacy and not to ask a few questions, and yes, there’ll be money in the till after it, and yes, it’s unlikely there’ll be any repercussions, but the job is ask the questions. To collaborate and give of yourself and your time, and your staff time, so that there is clear value added. Much like the uptake of vaccination in a population required to prevent an outbreak, it’s past time that we got to 80 per cent-plus uptake in application of knowledge, skills and a professional attitude at the counter in order to prevent an outbreak of ‘sure, aren’t they just shopkeepers!’

General election and making choices

With Sinn Féin up 6 per cent in a recent poll, around the time one of their councillors noted the “Indian” heritage of our Taoiseach, the mind boggles. Dopamine, as the ‘us and them’ hormone, no doubt stirring the blood of many a brave Irish man and woman ready to fight for ‘the cause’. Indeed. The ‘whole country is in a state of chassis’ smacks of the wisdom of protagonist Captain Boyle in Seán O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock. “No bread is better than half a loaf” being another one of the quotes from this genius. And who said most what you learn in your Leaving Cert isn’t relevant?! There are the two quotes I learned, and both of them are relevant. 

Actually, we are in really good shape as a country. One of the best in the world to live and work in. We are not at risk of starvation, like about 15 per cent of the world’s population; indeed, we are among the most affluent 15 per cent. When your reference point is no running water or sanitation, infant mortality rates that remain inordinately high, no access to healthcare and life-saving medicines, then an attitude of gratitude can be more readily cultivated. Have a read of the book Factfulness if you’d like to feel better about your life, and to inoculate you from some of the sensationalist, emotive tripe we are fed by much of our media. 

Yes, of course there will be richer and poorer than ourselves, but a myopic focus on what’s not working at the expense of what is in order to determine policy is a fool’s game. There will be always be more successful people, by societal and media expectations, than ourselves. Our reference point here is again critical, and where our focus lies. Do we consider what we are lucky to have, or feed anxiety by focusing on what we have not? There is an element of choice there to consider. Nor am I suggesting, of course, that we do not strive for better. That is why we were made. 

So, who will be a friend to pharmacists and our profession of the candidates and parties in the next election needs to be teased-out. The tidal wave of Trumpish ignorance, bigotry, racism and warmongering, fuelled by the ‘us and them’ politics and media probing that appears to be gaining traction in the Western world, is concerning. Sinn Féin’s focus on our Taoiseach’s heritage smells of something different in Irish politics, or maybe it’s there already. The Brits and ‘we, ourselves’ — Sinn Féin. Catholics and Protestants. Republicans and Unionists. Stoking those embers of a fractured and troublesome past is what I hoped we would be moving away from as a positively-evolving society. A party professing a wish for unity with a focus on difference. A tribal anti-vote, rather than a vote for something constructive, I can understand. It is just so far removed from a collaborative and wholesome way forward, but I am no doubt naive in my assessment and understanding of the perspective of many others. Getting one’s kicks off the tribalism associated with the GAA and inter-provincial rugby just seems so much healthier!

What’s in it for me?

The real question at the end of all this is, do we represent ourselves well as a profession, day-to-day, in the dispensary and at the counter? Is patient care and safe and effective medicine use easily reconcilable with management, HR and business requirements in community pharmacy? 

Are we being represented well by our representative body, as considered in my last article? I hope it was received in the good faith with which it was intended. 


So, how will you vote, and what are your criteria? The politicians who engaged and responded to correspondence around the recently-proposed pharmacy cuts are perhaps a good starting point. The poster boys and girls who can’t manage to reply to their constituents’ emails should be kindly afforded the time to take an ECDL course after the next election. If you want the job, then do the work. 

Do they have a constructive, can-do attitude, and a history of delivering in some capacity for their constituents and of course the country, with previous behaviour being the best predictor of future behaviour.

Do they share your values in terms of community, morality, or other considerations may be in the mix there too. 

So best of luck with your choices for the election. Perhaps you’ll have made your election choices by the time you’ve read this, given our publishing lag-time. There will be another one soon enough, no doubt! Best of luck also, though, in your choices day-to-day. Your choices to deliver positively for yourself, your family, your patients and customers, and your profession.