There are certainly opportunities for pharmacy, but it would be fair to say some in the community sector will be wondering what happens next.
Pharmacists certainly featured more than ever before and it was great to see NHS England recognise how central their skills will be to meeting its ambitions around patient safety and delivering better value from the billions of pounds spent on medicines each year.
There was also the plan to use community pharmacists to support a renewed drive on the NHS Health Check, working with the voluntary sector and GP practices to increase earlier detection of high-risk conditions such as cardiovascular disease. But there are even more opportunities for pharmacists to use their clinical skills to help people stay healthier for longer, including for long-term conditions such as diabetes or increasing access to physical health checks for people with mental health problems.
The Health Secretary has said that treating people closer to home and helping them stay out of hospital must be a priority and it will be vital for the Government to make the most of community pharmacy to achieve this. With an ongoing workforce crisis, it is more important than ever to draw on the skills and expertise across the health professions to support patient care.
To meet this challenge, it is clear that new approaches to integrated working will be needed, none more important than enabling community pharmacists to play a role in the emerging Primary Care Networks and Integrated Care Systems. While it remains to be seen how new initiatives such as the shared savings scheme will work in practice, such as where pharmacists can help reduce avoidable A&E attendances or delayed discharge, whatever the structures we must avoid having just the usual suspects around the table. If local health leaders want to think differently about they support population health, they need to reach out to community pharmacy as part of the multidisciplinary team to help shape local plans and services.
Pharmacists will be key to reducing medicines-related hospital admissions, helping people get the most from their medicines, and stopping medicines where appropriate. Matt Hancock had already announced a review into ‘problematic polypharmacy’ in December and to really make a difference for patients this should draw on pharmacists in all care settings, from community to care homes and from GP practices to hospitals. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which published polypharmacy guidance earlier this year, will be engaging with the Government and NHS England on this further.
Many in the sector might be uncertain what the reference to “further efficiencies and reimbursement reform” will mean for them, but with the announcement of the new GP contract I hope that the Government and NHS England can now turn their attention to a new deal for community pharmacy. The Long-Term Plan is ambitious for pharmacists and we will be keen to see how the Government now responds to calls for a shift towards fairly rewarding them for delivering more clinical services.
Pharmacists on the frontline are already working tirelessly every day to help their patients and whatever happens next, we need to ensure the health and wellbeing of our workforce is supported. We also need to look at how the training and education of pharmacists should evolve to help them meet the demands of the future, as well as ensuring the technology is in place so they can update patient records and work with colleagues across the health service.
With a focus on patient safety, prevention, and reducing hospital admissions, as one of the most accessible faces of the health service, pharmacists in the community must be central to meeting the ambitions of the Long-Term Plan.