By Priyankur Mandav
HEALTH SECRETARY Matt Hancock praised pharmacists and their teams for “stepping up to the plate” as he highlighted the importance of community pharmacy during the pandemic.
“We value the work that you do,” Hancock told a virtual conference organised by the National Pharmacy Association on Monday (13).
He also commended pharmacists for their efforts during the coronavirus crisis. Hancock said: “For those who didn’t understand the importance of community pharmacy before the crisis… how you worked, stayed open and served your community in the middle of the peak of the crisis, you have done your duty, and you’ve stepped up to the plate.”
“And for that, on behalf of all the communities you served, I want to say, ‘Thank you.”
Giving an insight into the government’s plans for the winter seasonal flu jabs, the health secretary said he wanted pharmacies to be involved in the rollout of “the biggest flu vaccination programme in history.”
“We’re expecting high demand and pharmacies will play a critical role,” Hancock added.
He said the government was currently working on how a Covid-19 vaccine rollout would work once it became available, and that pharmacies would be used to deliver the programmes.
He noted that as the first port of call for healthcare, pharmacies were deeply embedded in his department’s drive to ensure that the NHS was “always there for everyone”, whether in the middle of a pandemic or after.
Hancock added that “by being the eyes and ears on the ground and by understanding your communities”, pharmacies could help prevent people getting into a more serious condition.
Reiterating that community pharmacy was “a critical part” of the NHS, he said: “You are an untapped resource who, when asked and supported to do more, can provide better care in our communities, and can make sure that people get a better service out of the entire NHS family.
He added: “You are at the forefront of where the community and the citizens who we all serve meet the NHS.”
In response to a question about why community pharmacists were being treated as the “Cinderella of the NHS family” and amid a claim that there were 300 too many pharmacies, Hancock said: “I don’t even recognise the number,” adding that such an idea ended “the day I became secretary of state.
“I’m a huge believer in community pharmacy and I’ve seen it for myself. I’ve seen the benefits of it… I’m a great fan and a great believer.”
Hancock said during the coronavirus pandemic, pharmacies rightly focused on core tasks of safely supplying medicines to patients including bringing new delivery rounds and remaining open “when every other shop on the high street was shut”.
He said he was keen to see people with minor illnesses referred to community pharmacy in order to take pressure off GPs, noting that the pandemic has made this more challenging.
However, he added that the opportunities for the sector were huge, with the possibility of 20 million GP appointments being referred to community pharmacies every year, along with the resumption of other services which have been paused temporarily due to Covid-19.
“I look forward to the continued rollout of more and more clinical services, with the goal that all pharmacists should be operating at the top of their qualifications, at the top of their license, engaged with and supporting the communities who we serve to get the very best possible treatment as close to home as possible,” Hancock said.