Recognising the value of community pharmacy in delivering sexual health services

Anna Ruthven, Head of Services for McKesson UK discusses the important role community pharmacy can play in providing accessible sexual health services:

In the last decade or so, people have become much more aware of how important their sexual health is. Every year the number of people visiting sexual health clinics rises; in 2018 over 3.5 million people visited a sexual health clinic, more than 13% on the number of visits in 2013, including 7% between 2017 and 2018 alone.

Yet it seems that while there is increasing demand for protection against sexually transmitted infections, public health budget funding cuts in the last five years of £700 million means that people can’t access the help they need.

I believe community pharmacies, such as LloydsPharmacy, are well positioned to deliver sexual health services due to our accessibility, extended opening hours and existing relationship with customers.

With the total number of sexual health screenings increasing by nearly a fifth, we have more than 500 community pharmacies commissioned to deliver an STI screening or treatment service.

We have also focussed our attention in locations that have seen closures of sexual health clinics. In Derbyshire, our pharmacists have been involved in a pilot where they have been delivering contraceptive services such as oral contraception and injections. Being involved early on has enabled us to help develop and shape the service to better fit patients’ needs and utilise the skills of the pharmacist and team. Due to the success of the pilot, the commissioner is now looking to roll the service out further to other community pharmacies within the area.

In some of our Birmingham based LloydsPharmacy stores, we are also delivering contraceptive services commissioned by Umbrella – a local sexual health service provided by University Hospitals Birmingham, for anyone concerned about their health. Patients can access contraceptive injections and contraceptive pills from pharmacies, as well as other sexual health services such as STI screening, emergency contraception and condom distribution.

We also have our LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor team who are also available for private consultation online on any sexual health questions and concerns and can send patients any tests they need. This is ideal for customers who prefer the convenience and privacy of an online consultation, but there is always the option to refer them back to a community pharmacy for further advice.

In March, the PSNC highlighted the Public Health England report, calling for commissioners to recognise the value that community pharmacy can have, given their position with local communities.

We don’t know what lies ahead for the public health budget after 2019/20, which means there is no solution in place for the increasing demand for sexual health advice and services. If we can fully embrace the role community pharmacy can play with providing sexual health care, we can help stop this issue from spiralling out of the control.