Community Pharmacy’s role in the prevention agenda

McKesson UK CEO, Toby Anderson, gives his views on the Secretary of State’s preventative healthcare strategy:

This week, Matt Hancock talked about his long term vision for the NHS and in particular, a re-focus of health service resources on prevention. The figures speak for themselves; less than 10% of the health budget is spent on prevention.

Being able to live not just a longer life, but one that is more active, with as few long term conditions as possible, should surely motivate us all to take responsibility for our own health. And community pharmacists have an important role to play in this agenda.

We know that when the NHS was set up 70 years ago a grateful population sought treatment for emergency healthcare but new treatments, advancements in care and more patients living with chronic conditions mean that the current demands are unprecedented. Little wonder that the 21st century NHS bears little relation to Nye Bevan’s original dream.

Unnecessary emergency admissions are extremely costly and represent very poor value for our health budget so the focus on prevention makes absolute sense. At McKesson UK we have partnered with pharmaceutical manufacturers on numerous medicines adherence programmes that are both nurse and pharmacist-led but there are plenty of other reasons for hospital attendance where community pharmacists could have a role to play. The new Digital Minor Ailment Service (DMIRs) is a great example of how our sector is supporting the NHS in reducing the footfall in GP, Urgent Care and A&E admissions.

There’s also news from the health secretary that employers need to play their part in helping their workforce stay healthy – with benefits for business, the economy and the individual. Pharmacy has become more involved in recent years in delivering private flu vaccines – one way in which individuals are taking responsibility for their health. The take up from business remains low, but progressive employers are becoming more switched on to running this type of programme.

Advancements in technology mean that people can keep track of their heart rate and monitor their exercise through easy to use trackers and apps. This interest in fitness can be harnessed to broaden awareness of the impact of lifestyle choices on our health.  Mr Hancock has already indicated his desire for the NHS to use digital technology to improve our health, make our lives easier and make money go further.

Self-care is, of course, something that community pharmacy has been involved with for years. Our over the counter treatments accompanied by professional advice have helped patients treat their symptoms at home.  Stepping up a gear to help with more prevention seems a logical step and ideally suited to our capabilities and accessibility.

The impacts of smoking, drinking too much alcohol, eating too much fat and sugar and exercising too little are all well documented. Yet, apart from smoking cessation, there are few services run through community pharmacy that focus on promoting a healthy lifestyle.  Surely an opportunity missed?  NHS health checks, stop smoking services and diabetes prevention schemes have certainly helped start the dialogue between clinicians and patients about lifestyle factors, but weight management services are rare.  Health Living Pharmacies are a great platform to build upon, creating ‘health hubs’ in the community with colleagues more focused on public health.

So let’s hope that the promised Green Paper provides community pharmacy with a role to play in preventing illness. One that is properly funded.  We can help bring this vision to life and contribute to a healthier Britain.