Recently, the English Health Secretary has talked about introducing a ‘Pharmacy First‘ model similar to that which exists in Scotland. This would be a win-win outcome providing people with better access to essential healthcare support, advice and treatment whilst relieving strain on other parts of the NHS, not least GPs and A&E.
It is a no-brainer and yet despite a few media headlines there are still no firm proposals on the table to make this a reality. It surely cannot be right that you can receive a broad range of patient care services in Scotland which are not available in England. It works well in Scotland, Wales is keen to develop more pharmacy-based services and Northern Ireland, leaving aside the current funding dispute, has had a minor ailments service for many years.
If the English Health Secretary is sincere in his interest in adopting an English version of the Scottish model, then there are critical aspects he needs to consider.
Firstly, start with the patient journey through the healthcare ecosystem from illness prevention through to long-term condition management. What is the role of community pharmacy and how do we guide people to seek support from the most appropriate healthcare professional?
What is the vision for community pharmacy delivering patient care in the next decade?
The lesson from Scotland is that the government needs to sit down with the sector and map that out together. There are no quick fix overnight solutions. This needs to be a long-term commitment backed by adequate funding. Supervision regulations need to change and there needs to be a thought through workforce strategy which avoids community pharmacy shortages as that does nothing to deliver improved patient outcomes.
Community pharmacy in England is at crisis point. Simply asking us to do more with no new investment is a recipe for disaster. It’s clear to see that we need an NHS which values and invests in the long-term viability of our critical community pharmacy network as much as it does our GP network: each working together in collaboration in the best interests of patients.
Let us learn from pharmaceutical care services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and implement best practice in England. That means investing in the sector; reversing the decline in the network we currently see; promoting pharmacy as a “go to” for illness prevention and long-term condition management.
BY NIGEL SWIFT
Nigel Swift is deputy managing director of PHOENIX UK.