2018 must be the year that pharmacy is finally recognised

Our speciality director Ruth Poole talks about the challenging period that our NHS is facing and says pharmacy must be recognised to do more.

News about NHS pressure is never out of the spotlight for too long these days. The last 12 months has seen unprecedented levels of patient demand and increasing financial strain which has left the health service creaking at the seams. The struggle of some hospitals throughout the Christmas period has led to it being described as a winter crisis.

It was reported this week that thousands of patients were left stranded in the back of ambulances outside overflowing A+E departments between Christmas and New Year. Surely that is wholly unacceptable, especially when we have the infrastructure in other areas of healthcare to free up more space in hospitals and ensure better patient experiences.

All of this begs the question, why aren’t things changing?

We heard before Christmas that some hospitals were at 99% capacity, going into the busiest time of year. It was also reported that missed hospital appointments are costing the NHS almost £1bn each year and are preventing other patients from being seen as quickly.

The solution for this has to be for other healthcare professions to share the load – if we can increase patient choice and direct people away from hospital, unless absolutely necessary, we can free up time and space for the NHS to look after those that truly need it.

Community pharmacy can play a key role in achieving this, but only if it is freed up to do more. Pharmacists are by far the most accessible healthcare professionals – and are often underutilised. They have the expertise to provide additional advice and services in the community that can help ease the burden on GPs and hospitals.

We are a long-term trusted partner of the NHS and we are starting to work even more closely with Trusts to support them to meet evolving patient needs – our healthcare centres from LloydsPharmacy are a good example of this. But whether it’s through our dispensing, our pharmaceutical distribution, our homecare business or our presence within communities across the UK, we provide vital services that help the NHS stay true to its core values. I believe we can do even more still.

The well documented capacity challenges within hospitals and GPs mean that not everyone can access appointments and speak to healthcare professionals when they need to – this fundamentally contradicts the purpose of our national health service.

The founding principles of the NHS were to provide quality healthcare to everyone in our society, regardless of wealth or status. It was born with a vision for a healthier Britain, where everyone’s health matters equally. We share that vision and we want to make sure that the NHS is fit for the future. It needs to be better integrated, we need to talk more, collaborate better and challenge traditional thinking.

The New Year brings with it a fresh set of optimism and energy, particularly around the world of healthcare. Although by its very nature, moving from 2017 to 2018 is a fairly arbitrary landmark, there is a feeling that this year is going to be a critical one for the whole sector.

I sincerely hope that 2018 will bring the kind of fresh thinking that our health service needs. Throughout its 70 years, the NHS has always pushed the boundaries and been innovative. All of the issues that are facing the entire healthcare sector require a united front, led by our brilliant, forward-thinking National Health Service.