Let’s all wish for a new and happier chapter in 2021

Opinion

Let’s all wish for a new and happier chapter in 2021

This has been a year most of us would like to forget but there are some rays of hope for community pharmacy, says NPA chairman Andrew Lane.

As I sit down to write this column, the news is coming through that the first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been administered to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan in Coventry. So in the spirit of optimism that seems appropriate on this ‘V Day’, I have identified some rays of hope for community pharmacy too.

Firstly, pharmacies have never been more loved and appreciated. An NPA survey in the summer showed that pharmacists currently enjoy huge public support, with 81 per cent of the public holding a favourable view – up 15 per cent from 2016.

The research also showed public support for pharmacies to play a greater role in the future of the NHS and a strong attachment to community-based services.

The public’s backing is vital to underpin future investment in the sector. Earlier this month, a nationwide citizen’s group (38 Degrees) began a petition in support of fair funding, with the NPA’s help.

Political engagement

Second, politicians and senior NHS officials are engaging with our sector like never before. On Small Business Saturday this month, the NPA arranged a pharmacy visit for a Department of Business minister and this follows numerous similar visits, from the Prime Minister down. Such encounters, although important, are just the bits of the iceberg poking above the surface.

I can assure you that our public affairs activity is substantial, constant, sophisticated and happening at all levels of Government.

Third, Covid has accelerated moves towards team-working amongst NHS providers and between pharmacies themselves. You can see some great examples of the work of pharmacies during the pandemic on our nhsfrontline.com website.

Fourth, some of the service developments we’ve seen in pharmacy this year are potentially transformative and point the way to a brighter future. In Scotland, the Pharmacy First scheme now allows patients to get pharmacist independent prescriber advice, treatment and referral in the pharmacy.

In England, the (albeit low key) introduction of the GP-referred Community Pharmacist Consultation Service might also be a seminal moment. Such schemes begin to position community pharmacy as the ‘front door to health’ and ultimately indispensable to the effective functioning of the NHS.

My fifth reason for feeling hopeful is the sheer resilience, professionalism and resourcefulness demonstrated by pharmacists and their teams, throughout this dire period. You have been truly remarkable and it is something to be very proud of.

I am not blind to the huge and ongoing pressures bearing down on independent pharmacies across the UK but you can be sure that the NPA is working hard for you. We’re continuing to put the positive case for public investment in the community pharmacy sector, and to build relationships with decision-makers, with a view to creating a real impetus for change and improvement in 2021 and beyond.

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