As her retirement from the role of Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for Scotland edges closer, and we prepare to bid farewell to a formidable leader, Rose Marie Parr poignantly reflects on what the post has meant to her, her hopes for pharmaceutical care in Scotland, and how her next chapter is unfolding.

As I type my name for this article today, I am very aware that I will not have this written title for much longer – due to my imminent retirement from the post of Chief Pharmaceutical Officer (CPO).

These are strange times indeed as my plans were to have retired earlier this year, but I couldn’t walk away from pharmacy in the middle of a public health crisis – and so I withdrew my retirement plans to a time when things were becoming a bit more stable.

I have been both honoured and humbled to be able to take up this role as CPO for Scotland – but never so much as now – and I am so proud and thankful to the pharmacy profession across Scotland in these extraordinary times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Best of Times

I have been in the CPO post for over five years and it has gone so fast and furious, but it has been the very best of times. I am looking forward to my retirement; I am feeling a little excited, but also a little trepidatious – mostly because I have never had time away from work in my whole life.    

It is true to say that I am rather defined by work and pharmacy as all along my working life I haven’t had a gap year or a career break – or indeed when I got married last October, I didn’t even manage a honeymoon! At the end of 2019, just when I got married, along came the EU exit and then COVID-19, so if I don’t have a holiday soon I may well be divorced before my first wedding anniversary!

My time in the post of CPO has really been the best of times as it is a job like no other. It is an absolute pleasure to represent and lead the profession in Scotland – but when I first started in 2015 I always knew that I had a very steep learning curve.

I also always knew my professional direction of travel and that was the continuation of pharmaceutical care which in Scotland in 2002 began with the first ever pharmacy strategy, ‘The Right Medicine’, and is still extant now with ‘Achieving Excellence in Pharmaceutical Care’ (AEiPC). I am really delighted with the profession’s reaction to the AEiPC over the last five years or more. I have spoken many times and talked of the nine commitments and actions of the AEiPC strategy to almost anyone who would listen – and I am impressed by the level of agreement and collaboration it has engendered across the profession. I think the purpose of leadership is to shine a light into the future and way forward, and the AEiPC framework has allowed that light to navigate our pharmacy future.

Achieving Excellence in Pharmaceutical Care

The first commitment in AEiPC is rightly to the community pharmacy network across Scotland. It builds on the start of both minor ailment and the chronic medication services first introduced in Scotland in 2006 and now brings it right up-to-date with an absolute ‘game-changer’ for pharmacy and the public with the introduction in July 2020 of the NHS Pharmacy First service where pharmacists will be able to give advice and treatment to the whole population for Scotland. I think that this literally turns community pharmacy into the first port-of-call for patients and the public for NHS Scotland pharmaceutical care.

 Other AEiPC commitments include the growth of pharmacists and technicians in GP practice to undertake pharmaceutical care in another setting – but very much needs to link with community pharmacy to be successful. AEiPC is also committed to working to modernise hospital pharmacy, through very positive initiatives, such as the Hospital Electronic Pharmacy and Medicines Administration system (HePMA) and also vitally important work in medicines outcomes for patients, such as the Cancer Medicines Outcome Programme (CMOP).

Building for the Future

As a profession, pharmacy education and training is very close to my heart after my time at NHS Education for Scotland (NES) and the work undertaken to update both the undergraduate and postgraduate and career framework for pharmacy has been vitally important. I am extremely grateful to all of my colleagues in NES and pharmacy education for all of their efforts to make sure that our profession is fit for the future – not just at present – but also in 10-to-20 years’ time too.

One of the more recent highlights as CPO has been being able to work closely with Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS); both their executive colleagues and their negotiating group to allow us to settle on a three-year financial pharmacy agreement and a patient-focussed direction of travel for the community pharmacy network. In addition, I am excited about the work of CPS and NES in promoting the role of the independent prescriber in community pharmacy and through training more prescribers and developing a foundation programme and pathway to make sure that we have capacity in the community pharmacy network. This will grow both confident and competent independent prescribing community pharmacists to allow them to undertake safe and effective pharmaceutical care in their community pharmacy in the heart of their communities. This competence and professional autonomy in medicines prescribing and medication review, combined with the social capital that defines our community pharmacy network, is vital to the very bright future of community pharmacy.

The challenges across our profession always seems to me to boil down to time and money as I think there is never enough of either – but pharmacy has the confidence and abilities to rise to this challenge and that can only be good for the pharmaceutical care of patients across Scotland.

Thank You

Lastly, but really importantly, I would like to say a huge thank you to all of the pharmacy teams across Scotland for their hard work and efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am really proud of the pharmacy profession as a whole, and the part each person has played in the hectic weeks and months since early March.

Community pharmacy has remained one of the few truly accessible primary care settings that has stayed open, offering access to healthcare and professional advice when the public really needed it.

The community pharmacy network has shown real resilience through extraordinarily demanding times. Pharmacy teams have managed unprecedented levels of prescribing activity, particularly in March where we saw an increase in prescription activity alone of 50 per cent and more. And that doesn’t tell the whole story because we also know that pharmacies provided walk-in consultations for advice, self-care, and treatment throughout.

Keeping all that going has been really challenging for community pharmacy but they have risen to that challenge and excelled beyond it indeed. That vital contribution has been recognised and applauded at the highest level of Scottish government and I add my own thanks. As CPO I am forever grateful to pharmacy for their response to patients, carers and their families in the face of our biggest ever public health crisis.

Lastly, when I do retire as CPO at the end of September, I will have some plans to try to take that honeymoon staycation at last, but I will always have pharmacy at my heart and I am fortunate enough to be able to continue to serve on the council of the pharmacy regulator, the General Pharmaceutical Council, and also have the privilege to be part of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Panel of Fellows. So, hopefully I am not disappearing from pharmacy completely!

I look forward to seeing in post and supporting the next CPO – and will work to support the pharmacy profession in any way I can in the future.