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NPA View: What changes do we want to stay?

There needs to be a debate about the changes that have occurred in pharmacy practice during the Covid crisis, says NPA vice chair Nick Kaye.

The world over, people are asking if things can ever be the same again after this coronavirus pandemic. At the end of it all, will the way we live have changed fundamentally and permanently?

What have we stopped doing as a result of coronavirus – and would it matter if we never resumed those things? What new habits have we formed – and which of these ought to continue into the long term? These are questions for every individual, every country and every sector, including community pharmacy.

Things won’t – and indeed should not – go back to the way they were before. We will want to continue with new flexibilities if they help pharmacies provide more convenient care, but safety should not be compromised or quality undermined. We all need to think about a long list of issues for the post-crisis world that includes:

• Pharmacists’ professional powers, such as generic substitution and independent prescribing
• The use of technology and the place of online supply
• Flexible teamworking
• Co-operation between pharmacies
• Co-ordination with other primary care providers
• Scaling up electronic repeat dispensing
• Medicines deliveries as a commissioned service
• Relationships with wholesalers
• The financial model and pharmacy funding
• The role of patients and communities in pharmacy affairs
• The balance of administrative red tape versus time spent on direct patient care.

Coronavirus has thrown into sharp relief the importance of a vibrant network of pharmacies operating close to where people live, work and shop. With so many other health facilities closed or operating by phone during the coronavirus pandemic, community pharmacy has become not only the front door, but in many neighbourhoods the only door open to the public.

Opportunity beckons

We already expect that GPs will not resume all their former ways of working – which opens up a space for community pharmacy to fully embed its ‘front door’ position – as an essential, indispensable component of the urgent care pathway, as well as a health and well-being hub and mainstay of support for people with long-term medical conditions, integrated with the wider primary healthcare team.

So while continuing to focus on helping independent pharmacies provide essential services in the here-and-now, the NPA is also talking to members and stakeholders about the future. As a former prime minister once said, in the aftermath of an altogether different crisis: “The kaleidoscope has been shaken, the pieces are in flux, soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.”

  • The NPA has launched a video highlighting the role community pharmacy teams across the UK are playing in the fight against coronavirus. The video, which was posted on YouTube and Twitter, begins with a message from the health secretary Matt Hancock, who thanks pharmacists for the work they have done during the pandemic and says they “truly are a crucial part of the NHS.”

Things should not go back to the way they were before.

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