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The Pharmaceutical Journal Vol 266 No 7150 p761
June 2, 2001


It could never happen to you

By Phil Jobson

Many parts of the country are still severely affected by foot and mouth disease — particularly parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Veterinary Pharmacists Group committee member Phil Jobson explains what it has been like living at the heart of the epidemic

It could never happen to us. North Cumbria is a quiet place where the daily routine never changes. An area totally dependent upon livestock farming, but with many deep and rich characters who make one really understand where the true value of community pharmacy lies; the people.

Longtown auction market is the largest sheep auction in the country, trading up to 20,000 sheep in a single day. Some time between February 15 and 22, harvest came early — only this time it was the Grim Reaper. Some infected sheep passed through the auction, mixing with sheep and farmers from throughout the area and triggering a disaster. We can still only guess at the extent of the implications for the whole economy of North Cumbria; an area with sparse population and little opportunity to diversify into tourism.

We wake each morning to hear the names of farms confirmed with foot-and-mouth, whose owners are friends as well as customers. As the numbers of our customers confirmed grows to exceed £200,000-worth of turnover, and the continuation of the cull threatens to exceed half of our turnover, one turns to some fundamental business analysis and out-of-the-box thinking.

During this crisis, my pharmaceutical skills continue to be called on to solve the most varied practical problems. How do you change the pH of 500,000 gallons of slurry outside of the range 6 to 9, so that it can be safely disposed of on the land of an infected farm? More to the point, how do you relay that information to a man who has not only lost his livelihood (and remember that the compensation only reimburses him for the value of his livestock), but also participated in the destruction of cows that he has nurtured for years? How do you degrease livestock handling equipment ready for sterilisation?

All this while considering other fundamental questions. How do you co-ordinate other businesses in the town effectively to lobby Members of Parliament and Ministers to attract funding for the local economy? Which of the many important points do you emphasise in a time-limited meeting with Michael Meacher, Minister for the Environment, who is heading the rural task force? Most fundamentally, what is to happen to our staff when there are no livestock left in North Cumbria to treat?

Well, almost all the businesses in the town have very little opportunity to realign. The company can only sell bulk to farmers. How does the auction trade if there are no sheep or cattle? Even the doctor can only treat human patients. But the pharmacist has a broad scientific training and is qualified in many areas. Most specifically he has greater knowledge than any other trader on the high street in pharmacology and therapeutics, be that for human or animal medicines. In fact, most animal medicines are identical in formulation and use to human medicines, and pharmacists have communication skills and a high number of pet owners passing through their premises.

If this crisis has taught me anything, it is to have as many strings to my bow as possible, otherwise there will be a bleak future — a fact that my father-in-law realised too late when he was forced to close his butchers shop after an Asda store opened up round the corner. If a community pharmacy is to provide a comprehensive pharmaceutical service, it should be an ethical obligation to provide that service to animals as well as humans. Every community pharmacy can, and should, provide a range of pet medicines, whether that pharmacy be rural or urban. Pharmacists already have the breadth of knowledge to advise and sell these products. With resale price maintenance having disappeared, and with no certainty to contract limitation, the more strings the better.

It could never happen to you? That is what I thought!

This article is reproduced from The Agricultural and Veterinary Pharmacist, Issue 9, Spring/Summer 2001, published in June.

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©The Pharmaceutical Journal

Citation: Electronicjuice URI: 20004375

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