Ministers are looking at the future of community pharmacy in England in a “bigger way” and have a vision to go “beyond the Scotland model”, the CEO of the Pharmaceutical Service Negotiating Committee has said.
Community pharmacy in England has long campaigned for a Scotland-style “Pharmacy First” service which allows pharmacists to treat a range of common clinical conditions and help avoid unnecessary GP and out-of-hour appointments.
Janet Morrison’s comments were made in her closing keynote at the seventh annual Pharmacy Business Conference in London last Sunday (14). Pharmacy Business is a sister title of Eastern Eye and Garavi Gujarat newsweeklies and is published by the Asian Media Group.
Morrison said, “For the first time, community pharmacy has been seen as part of primary care in a really fundamental way that gives us hope for the future.
“I think they (ministers) believe they’ve gone beyond the Scotland model.”
Giving her views on the latest government announcement of £645 million allocated for pharmacy common conditions service, Morrison said, “Their thinking is for the future in a bigger and a more forward-thinking way.”
The new money – which will be made available over two years – will allow pharmacists to write prescriptions for seven common ailments for the first time in England. Morrison said this was “the most significant investment in community pharmacy in well over a decade” and that it followed hard negotiations.
However, she noted there were several “outstanding and urgent” issues that needed fixing – such as workforce pressure, due to a lack of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.
Delegates at the conference expressed cautious optimism about the government announcement, with most acknowledging the move was indeed a “vote of confidence” in recognition of community pharmacy’s vital role in the nation’s healthcare, particularly during the pandemic when they kept their doors open while others kept theirs shut.
Some, however, felt this cash injection was “too little too late”; one speaker likened it to “building an extension on a crumbling house”.
CEO of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, Dr Leyla Hannbeck, agreed that while the new money was a step in the right direction, it was no way near enough to resolve the sector’s “core funding issues that have been going on for years and years”. She said overworked pharmacists who contend daily with severe shortages of staff, resources and medicines feel as though “they are treated like a punching bag”.
In his welcome address, executive editor of Pharmacy Business, Shailesh Solanki called the much-awaited Pharmacy First service “a potential game-changer” for community pharmacy.
He said it would open the door for the sector “to showcase its undoubted value, reimagine its purpose and embed itself deeper” within the country’s primary care structure.
“The timing for the conference couldn’t have been better,” said Anne Joshua, head of Pharmacy Integration, NHS England, in her keynote address. She explained plans for the pharmacist independent prescribing service, that is expected to increase patient access to care and improve capacity in the healthcare system as well as individual health outcomes.
“This is a real opportunity to start building the future” of community pharmacy, she said, describing how the NHS England plan outlined measures to support primary care teams with the help of prescribing pharmacists.
Joshua said she was particularly excited about “digital interoperability” in the context of independent prescribing.
In his presentation on ‘Health tech for the next generation’, CEO of Invatech Health Tariq Muhammad, outlined how advances in technology provided community pharmacy an opportunity to do things differently.
“If we can reimagine our purpose and think differently about our use of technology, we can solve not only today’s challenges, but position pharmacy at the centre of the healthcare delivery for the next generation,” he said.
There were also talks on technology and a panel discussed rapid adoption of automation and digital solutions for community pharmacy – from the use of apps to robotics.
Superintendent pharmacist Raj Rohilla narrated how he was “getting bogged down” with the amount of time he needed to spend in dispensing. After automating his three pharmacies, he said he was happy he could finish the bulk of dispensing in good time and use his daily freedup hours in providing services.
“Our idea was to finish all the dispensing work by 3pm and then do the additional services,” he said at a session moderated by Gareth Jones, director of external and corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association.
Pharmacist and AI specialist, Yasmin Karsan, highlighted the possibilities of rapid adoption of artificial intelligence broadly within healthcare, but community pharmacy, in particular, where data collection was still one piece of a jigsaw.
Karsan said community pharmacy already holds “a ridiculous amount data in our PMR systems” which can be used to build an AI-based model for predictive analysis of medical support for long-term conditions such as hypertension.
“It’s all about using all that data in the most appropriate way to get the results that we need.”
Two further panels explored how a reimagined community pharmacy should keep clinical services at the forefront and discussed how pharmacy could promote self-care in the communities they served.