Investment urged to keep sector ‘about people, not just pills’
A BIRTHDAY is not just an opportunity to look back, but also to think about the future.
The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) is marking its centenary this year. So much has been achieved over the past 100 years by our members all across the UK, but the founders of the NPA could barely have foreseen what today’s pharmacists are doing to keep people well and save lives.
What would they have made of pharmacy-based vaccination programmes, pharmacist prescribing, healthy living champions, electronic prescriptions, weight management and blood pressure checks in pharmacies?
We believe the future of community pharmacy is going to be about patient-facing and community-based services, as well as our core role of safely dispensing more than one billion NHS prescriptions a year. This will be as part of the wider NHS team in your neighbourhood.
Evolving consumer expectations and the need to work efficiently within the NHS demand that we move swiftly to adopt new technologies, including digital communications, with patients.
At the same time, there are certain enduring values that people cherish. For example, we know from our own surveys that nearly 80 per cent of people say it is important to have face-to-face contact with their pharmacist. Community pharmacy’s face-to-face, no-appointment-necessary offering is something to prize and we must never lose the human touch in health care.
Our members have many stories that vividly illustrate this point. A woman spoke to a pharmacist about a possibly infected big toe. Visual emotional cues led to further discussion and it turned out that she was a new mum and her own mother was also very ill. She was referred and diagnosed with postnatal depression.
In the same pharmacy, a man asked to speak to the pharmacist privately about erectile dysfunction, but the pharmacist noticed a slight tremor as they were talking. This led to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, enabling early management. It can be so important to see the whites of people’s eyes at the point of care.
Pharmacies have stepped up to every challenge put before them over these traumatic past two years. We’ve made an astounding contribution to the Covid-19 vaccination programme with more than 15 million jabs delivered, including more than two million boosters. All this while safely supplying vital medicines and providing expert advice close to where people live, work and shop.
Looking ahead, pharmacies have the potential to be the backlog-busting centrepiece of the NHS’s recovery from Covid-19. Making more use of the skills of pharmacy teams will free up millions of GP and hospital appointments – potentially well more than 20 million appointments a year.
Provided there’s sufficient and sustained support from the government and health service stakeholders, pharmacies can help get the country through the pandemic, help the NHS catch up on lost ground and be a foundation stone for better care in the future.
Preventing ill health is one area where the potential is huge. In my view, people in all parts of the country should have an option to access health checks at local pharmacies – not just blood pressure, but also weight management linked to diabetes, extended smoking services, Hepatitis C test-and-treat, plus a range of vaccines like shingles, pneumococcal and more.
Current levels of funding in England cannot possibly sustain the service developments we could otherwise deliver. It makes no sense that NHS investment in community pharmacy has gone into reverse, contributing to a looming workforce crisis in the sector. This needs to be addressed urgently if we are to power forward with our can-do agenda for improving patient care and tackling the NHS backlog.
In the long run, there is much that could change, but I am confident that some things will always stay the same.
Above all, pharmacies will always be fundamentally about people and places, not just pills. I hope that patients will always be justified in putting their trust in pharmacists and pharmacy teams, because we maintain high standards of professionalism and care, in all the years to come.
Andrew Lane is chair of the National Pharmacy Association