Protecting community pharmacy

Our National Health Service is not short of challenges but there is a danger that by looking for short term fixes, more radical approaches that could deliver real benefits are ignored. The government’s approach to community pharmacy is a case in point. It is not just that pharmacy cuts could take out key parts of the national pharmacy network, especially in our poorer communities, it is that plans for the future of the NHS are being developed without thinking through how much more pharmacy can offer.

There are three major challenges the NHS needs to deal with over the next few years if the NHS is to continue to provide the level of care people expect and deserve.

1.    How do we support the increasing number of people living with long term conditions to live full lives?

Millions of people living with long term conditions feel they get good care but they and their families often don’t feel well supported. With medication normally a key part of their treatment, pharmacists are well placed to do much more to monitor and advise on how to manage a condition and help patients get the most out of life. Better support for patients and reduced pressure on other parts of the system.

2.    How do we make the best use of our entire health workforce and reduce unnecessary demand on general practice and A&E services?

Patients are continually blamed for accessing the NHS in the ‘wrong’ way whether that is turning up at A&E or visiting their GP when their problems could be dealt with more efficiently elsewhere. Where pharmacies offer minor ailment services, vaccinations or testing they can have a really positive impact on demands on general practice and our hospitals. Too often these approaches are patchy around the country or short term initiatives that patients confused. A consistent national approach over the long term can help change behaviours and ensure people get the care they need from the most appropriate part of the NHS.

3.    How do we support people to lead healthier lives and really get on top of the public health crisis that threatens to overcome our NHS?

Healthy Living Pharamcies have shown that a community pharmacy with the right ethos, training and investment can become a healthy living hub for the local community. From smoking cessation to weight management and sexual health, pharmacies are trusted and accessible sources of information and advice on how to lead a healthier life. Again, the approach is patchy across the country with pockets of great practice. The scale of the public health challenge our country faces means if we are to get really serious about prevention we need community pharmacy at the heart of our approach.

So three huge areas where the community pharmacy network can and is willing to do more. So we need to recognise that community pharmacy can contribute so much more than the safe dispensing of medicines, vital though that is. If we are to make the most of the network’s potential, community pharmacies need to be key partners in health plans nationally, regionally and locally.

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Jonathan McShane is cabinet member for social care for the London borough of Hackney and is on the LGA community wellbeing board. He tweets @jonathanmcshane

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