Pharmacists at the heart of the community

Published on Wednesday, 12 January 2011 00:00
Written by Stephen Fishwick

In Liberating the NHS, the Government states an ambition to make the NHS ‘the envy of the world’.  For this to happen, there has to be partnership right across the service, bringing to bear the efforts of all members of the NHS family.  

It is therefore welcome that the NHS white paper acknowledges that ‘pharmacists....have an important and expanding role in supporting better health’.  More recently still, the public health white paper describes community pharmacies as ‘a valuable and trusted public health resource’, drawing on the potential of ‘millions of contacts with the public each day’ to improve wellbeing and reduce health inequalities.
Naturally, Pharmacy Voice – the new collaboration between the National Pharmacy Association, the Company Chemists Association and the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies – agrees.  

The pharmacy network boasts a uniquely accessible position at the heart of communities and there is considerable public health benefit to be gained by extending the range and reach of pharmacy-based health improvement services.  The Healthy Living Pharmacies in Portsmouth cited in the public health white paper show what can be achieved if the energy of pharmacists and pharmacy teams is backed by the NHS. Amongst other achievements, there has been a 140% increase in smoking quits from these pharmacies compared with the year previous to their taking up HLP status.

We hope that new commissioning arrangements will not distract from the monumental challenges ahead, in particular efforts to bridge the stubborn health inequalities gap.  There must be specific provision in the new commissioning arrangements to support the non-registered population. The emerging system must be capable of maintaining equity so that people who need care most are not left behind.  Community pharmacists see many people who are not registered with GPs – and we need to know that this group will be looked after. Increased public investment in community pharmacy would mark a shift to more equitable health provision by bringing a wider range of NHS services into the heart of neighbourhoods where they are within easy reach of the people who need them most. 96% of the population - even those in the most deprived areas – can get to a pharmacy within 20 minutes by walking or using public transport.

It is vital that responsibility for commissioning doesn’t divert GPs’ attention from the immense challenge of supporting an ageing population and handling the explosion of chronic disease.  By stepping up community pharmacy’s role in the treatment of minor ailments, health improvement and the management of medicines, pharmacists can free up GPs for work that requires their unique skills, for example the holistic management of complex long term conditions.  GP commissioning can only make best use of NHS resources and be truly transformative if it is characterised by genuine accountability and partnership with all frontline providers, including community pharmacies.

Around the country pharmacies are offering NHS smoking cessation, weight management, sexual health and cardiovascular risk assessment services.  But commissioning of these services is far from universal.   The policy and commissioning challenge is to take the best of what is happening in some places to every place, so that all communities can benefit.

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