It took a crisis for pharmacy to be noticed

The crucial work of pharmacy teams during the current Covid crisis must be recognised in a meaningful way, says NPA chief executive Mark Lyonette.

Pharmacies are on the frontline of the national effort to limit the impact of coronavirus and keep people well, but there will come a time – let us hope soon – when the current situation is under control and people’s thoughts can turn to the future.

When that time comes, the crucial work of pharmacy teams during the crisis must be recognised in a meaningful way, by the NHS, Government and other stakeholders. We will remind them that, in the country’s hour of need, pharmacy teams stepped up, did their duty and saved lives.

The experience of the last few months surely shows that pharmacies are indispensable – both to patients and to the NHS. While providing vital frontline support, they are also absorbing pressure that would otherwise fall on other parts of the system. Since GPs have taken much of their service onto a remote footing, pharmacies are now the focus for face-to-face care in the community. You are the visible face of the NHS on the high street and in communities.

Structural issues

The crisis has shone a light on a number of structural, long-term issues for community pharmacy, even as the focus is rightly on the immediate needs of the sector and its patients.

One of those structural issues – an elephant in the room – is the chronic underfunding of community pharmacy in parts of the UK. Any future funding calculations need to weigh pharmacy’s part in the resilience of the healthcare system and the capacity to manage future public health emergencies.

‘The experience of the last few months surely shows that pharmacies are indispensable – both to patients and to the NHS’

Another long-standing issue is medicines shortages and the resilience and transparency of the supply chain. As pharmacies strain to meet the nation’s medicines needs, the NPA has sought to work in partnership with buying groups and wholesalers, and the response has been very constructive. Let us hope that a spirit of patient-centred co-operation across the supply chain becomes embedded – and lasts long after the worst of the Covid-19 crisis has passed.

A third area is the perception of pharmacy amongst the political class and the national media. Over the years, it has been a struggle to get pharmacy ‘noticed’ as a vital part of the NHS and to have pharmacists portrayed as healthcare professionals rather than principally retailers. At the moment, pharmacy is in the media spotlight as never before. We will do our best to take this heightened level of interest into the future.

Vigorous debate

There will be a vigorous debate about the changes to pharmacy practice that have been introduced to cope with the impact of coronavirus. Will the new flexibilities, if maintained for the long-term, help pharmacies provide more convenient care, or will safety be compromised and quality undermined?

Today, more than ever in our 100-year history, the NPA is proud to represent and support community pharmacies and community pharmacy people – heroes in this dark hour. The contribution made by community pharmacy must be recognised in the form of new respect, new investment and a supportive framework of policy and regulation.

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