NHS pressures: Pharmacy can provide long-term solutions, not just short-term relief

Cormac Tobin, Managing Director of LloydsPharmacy, part of Celesio UK

I, along with everyone else, have been alarmed by recent stories in the media about the pressures on our A&E departments. I truly feel for those patients caught in dire situations and for the NHS teams who are doing the best they can in exceptional circumstances.

As a pharmacy operator I find it frustrating as I know that we could help more to ease the situation if only people were more willing to see a pharmacist for common ailments. While the crunch point is A&E, the problem is a culmination of issues across the health service journey so we need to implement a range of solutions. There is no single answer.

We know that one issue contributing to pressures on A&E departments is people not accessing the right service for their need. Often they’re not able to secure a timely GP appointment for a non-emergency or non-life threating illness, so they opt to go to A&E instead.

I am not pointing the finger of blame, unlike some countries it’s not yet part of our social psyche here in the UK to think of pharmacy first. We’ve been used to going to our GP and if they’re not available, hospital is the automatic next option for many. There is, of course, a range of alternative options including 111, walk-in centres and pharmacy.

Some people, often those who are regular users of our services, are fully aware of the advice and support available at pharmacies – on their doorstep and without an appointment – but these are not yet the majority. If we are to have a health service that can cope with increasing demands, I truly believe we need to work together to help people see Community Pharmacy as a credible option.

While I welcome efforts by the NHS to raise awareness of pharmacy such as its Feeling Under The Weather campaign, these short term, reactionary efforts do not go far enough to change social behaviour. Community Pharmacy needs to be better integrated into the solution on a long-term basis.

In his recent progress and implementation plan for the Urgent and Emergency Care Review, the National Medical Director of NHS England, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, recommended extending its Minor Ailments Scheme to all Community Pharmacies. This is something which I fully support as it will create a consistent patient offering that is free at the point of delivery; help to increase understanding of pharmacists’ clinical abilities and, crucially, shift people’s mind-set.

We, at LloydsPharmacy, are continually championing Community Pharmacy as a destination for authoritative health and wellbeing advice. We’ve invested in health awareness campaigns, including common ailments, and for more than ten years we’ve been offering free Type 2 diabetes screening and blood pressure checks. Added to these are pain management, skin health and asthma control services.

We’ve been proactive because we want to help patients in our communities and to convey the capabilities of pharmacy beyond dispensing medicines. As the NHS struggles to cope with an aging population and an increasing number of people with long term conditions, it makes sense to us to maximise the clinical capabilities of pharmacists – both for urgent care and condition management – in a convenient, easily accessible location.

In his recent interview with The Guardian, Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, reiterated his call for ‘less reliance on hospitals’ because the ‘model of delivery and service that we have at the moment is not fit for the future.’ His words are in line with the Five Year Forward View where the Multi-speciality Community Provider model was highlighted as a way to create integrated out-of-hospital care.

Pharmacy can play a much wider variety of roles in keeping people out of hospital and supporting self-care. This is evidenced by projects such as Community Pharmacy Future – a collaboration between four pharmacy operators to design services that will give patients and carers the practical support they need for getting the best outcomes from medicines that have been prescribed for long-term conditions.

Pharmacy needs to embrace these new models of care provision and support the NHS’ steps to engage with the sector to realise the maximum potential.

22 January 2015