Now is the time to rethink how we do healthcare

Opinion

Now is the time to rethink how we do healthcare

Community pharmacy is on a transformative journey and the pandemic has given the sector an opportunity to rethink its role in healthcare, says Clare Kerr, head of healthcare policy and strategy at McKesson UK.

In the past 16 months pharmacy teams across the UK have stepped up beyond measure. Pharmacists moved out of their homes and away from family to continue working and have personally delivered prescriptions after hours to vulnerable and elderly patients, showing true dedication which should not be forgotten post-pandemic.

While others focused their attention on patients with Covid-19 or moved to virtual services, the doors of community pharmacies remained open, acting as a lifeline for some and gaining appreciation and trust from others. Through all the changes and difficulties, pharmacy has rolled up its sleeves, done what was asked of it, and more.

In the 2020-21 flu season, community pharmacy delivered nearly 3 million flu vaccines, contributing significantly to the national effort and the biggest flu vaccination campaign in history. In England alone, pharmacy delivered 60 per cent more NHS flu vaccines – testament to the capabilities of community pharmacy and what can be achieved when the wider sector unites.

And it is that word, ‘unites’, that is the key. Pharmacy has the potential to create capacity in the NHS – we just need to work together smarter and faster to get there – but it requires closer working relationships and better integration, alongside a fairer reimbursement system and a sustainable funding model.

The recent PSNC pharmacy advice audit showed that over 1.1 million patients seek informal advice from community pharmacies in England each week, for symptoms or about an existing medical condition. This not only demonstrates the trust communities place in pharmacy, but also highlights the value pharmacy adds, not just to patients but to the rest of the NHS system.

The audit showed that unpaid pharmacy advice is preventing 70,000 people from going to A&E or a NHS walk-in centre every week and saving more than 24 million GP appointments a year.

Creating more capacity

Pharmacy does so much to support the NHS already and can do more, but while we look to release capacity for the NHS, we also need to determine how we create it for ourselves.

For us, the vision is to see more services moving from doctors and hospitals to pharmacy and for pharmacies to become healthcare centres where we can provide great care in the community, with the support of the NHS and Government.

For example, in urgent care we should be working towards a walk-in CPCS offer, helping to take pressure off other parts of the system and making it easier and more convenient for patients. Pharmacy should also be taking a leading role in vaccinations, building on its involvement in flu and Covid-19.

Embrace digitisation

Pharmacists should be spending more time with patients and less time dispensing – but we are only going to be able to achieve this vision by embracing digitisation, because it is not just bricks and mortar pharmacies that are part of the solution.

Patients increasingly want to manage their health online, in a similar way to how they organise the rest of their lives. Delivering healthcare services digitally still relies heavily on highly skilled healthcare professionals and it remains complementary to services delivered in communities or hospitals.

These services require time, however, and by referring non-complex patients online for repeat prescriptions, we are able to reassign that time to providing advice, vaccinations and health checks that tap into underutilised talent while providing an enhanced source of income.

Online not a threat

If we are going to grow services, we must accept that online is not a threat, but gives pharmacy professionals the capability to focus on the face-to-face services only they can provide.

Consumers have very high expectations as innovation continues around them – and despite employing 1.3 million healthcare professionals in the NHS today, there simply is not enough people to support an ageing population. This means the very best of technology matched with great clinical skills and expertise will be a big part of the future.

The past year has highlighted the role of healthcare in the community more than ever before and I’m hopeful that we have an exciting future ahead of us. We’ve just got to work together to achieve it.

Patients increasingly want to manage their health online in a similar way to how they organise the rest of their lives

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