I suggest that message is important, but that a similar one issued around the implementation of the New Medicine Service was not acted on in the way it might have been. "I think on NMS you're right," he says. "It could have been done better, to be frank. The evidence base around NMS is strong, and there is scope to learn from how those things were implemented, and if this is going to be front and centre of the NHS, then it needs to be done well in a programme management type of way. Strategically, for community pharmacy, colleagues need to understand that.
"This is going to sound harsh, but this is not a game. And this time we have all got to work together to get it absolutely spot on. And that won't happen overnight, it's going to take time to get it right. The public and many patients are going to be dependent on it. And it's got to be right."
I suggest the last few years have been difficult, to say the least, for community pharmacies in England. Dr Ridge has been the target for many who blame him personally for the way community pharmacy has been dealt with for the past three years. He wants to look forward. "The Long Term Plan is very different," he says. "People are conscious of the financial constraints, and how they reflect on that and whether it will influence how things work out in the negotiations, I don't know."
He does want to talk about automation, though. "People are aware that community pharmacy is changing, but there is scope for further efficiency, of course there is. We need to work with the sector to ensure that the model that is developed around automation is open to everybody, and isn't just narrowed down to particular players. And, as I have said all along, I would hope what it does is free up clinical staff to do the things we are talking about, and to provide the quality and types of service I suspect they want to provide. "One can imagine the scenario where DMIRs is rolled out to a very high quality, in a system where automation that everyone is happy with is open to all. From an individual patient point of view, they can get more access to the clinical people we want them to have access to?
"The timing of all this is beyond my days I suspect, but you could see a really, really positive future for community pharmacy, there's no doubt about that, because you will have an efficient process of supply, the minor illness referrals properly and consistently delivered, and at the same time people trained to the standard I have mentioned to deliver pharmacy services. There are, as you know, some regulatory issues to be sorted out in all this. That's why it's essential that the sector, the Government and the NHS work together on this."
A new commission
The chief pharmacist is in an upbeat mood, in spite of the hours he's been putting in over Brexit in particular. I ask what's next for him personally. "The Secretary of State has asked me to carry out a review of over-prescribing and we're committed to report in 2020," he says. "We've done quite a bit of thinking, in the context of Brexit to be honest, and there is a range of things to consider, but you and I and others have spoken about inappropriate polypharmacy for a number of years. I have been to Canada to look at the work around deprescribing, NICE is now starting to consider the Canadian work, so I just think we are at that point where you can't have a more public expression that there is something to be addressed here. And the Secretary of State has asked someone to do something about it, and in this case, that's me.
"I've been reflecting on that for a bit, because this is not just about pharmacy, this is about a range of professions. It's about the public and their attitudes to medicines, it's about the system in which you end up on a lot of medicines which perhaps aren't always needed, including the approach to medical practice.
"We will look at alternatives to medication, so we are linking with the whole programme of work around personalised care in NHS England - the clinical lead for that is Alf Collins - and he and I are talking about social prescribing. It's a really important piece of multiprofessional work, which I'm very pleased to be heading up."
We are meeting before the first Brexit deadline, so I have to ask. "The NHS, and indeed Government, has to plan for every eventuality. That's what you'd expect, and indeed that's what we are doing," he says. "We have been planning for a significant period of time for a range of scenarios, including no deal. Line by line analysis of the supply chain.
"Community pharmacists and pharmacists broadly are going to be on the front line, so a couple of things to say. Firstly, a big thank you for the work they do. They will be in the right in position to advise the public on how to manage this. It is critical that there is no local stockpiling, because you know what the potential impact might be. I know the RCGP chair Helen Stokes-Lampard has written to GPs about pressure from patients to write longer scripts. Monitoring around all of this is increased. I'm not saying we won't get shortages. But all the transport arrangements the Department and Government have put in place are robust."