A seven-day NHS – how can we make it happen?

Cormac Tobin, Managing Director at Celesio UK, including LloydsPharmacy

I was interested to see David Cameron’s seven-day NHS proposals make it into yesterday’s Queen’s Speech – highlighting the plans as a key health policy.

Part of the Conservatives’ election pledge, the seven-day plans would aim to ensure that all patients can access higher quality healthcare, no matter what day of the week it happens to be.

Although details of how a true seven-day NHS would be achieved have yet to be announced, they include hiring more GPs and changing shift patterns of hospital-based medical professionals.

But I think more can be done to change the current system – and I believe Community Pharmacy is already a great example of how to care better for more patients, on a finite NHS budget.

The campaign to promote pharmacy as a frontline alternative to GP or A&E care is already up and running. So what else can Community Pharmacy offer?

With the proportion of the public able to get online at an all-time high, it’s clear to me that technology will be key to taking the pressure off primary care.

According to the latest data published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, more than 97 per cent of patients in England can now take advantage of online services. That’s a massive jump from just 4 per cent a year ago.

We mustn’t lose this opportunity to get patients using online health services, which include booking appointments, requesting repeat prescriptions and accessing personal medical information. These may seem like small things, but on a national scale, less administration could release NHS staff to see more patients in need – as well as empowering patients to take control of their own health.

Pharmacies can play a crucial role in promoting these services, as well extending their own online health care offerings.

Through our LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, for instance, patients can consult a doctor without having to book a face-to-face appointment and may be prescribed medicines, which can then be collected in store or delivered to their doorsteps. And as part of the national Electronic Prescription Service scheme, our pharmacies are helping to ensure that patients are able to collect their prescriptions quickly and easily, reducing bureaucracy for all.

I believe that those questioning whether a seven-day NHS can really work in practise should take inspiration from the changes that digital technology has made possible.

It seems to me that the shift is already happening: it’s time to widen our horizons and be open to new ways of helping people live healthier lives.