Community pharmacy bodies have said that the current crippling financial pressures and severe staff shortages will limit the sector from fully supporting the new health secretary’s ambition to improve patient care in England.
Thérèse Coffey announced her plans on Thursday (September 22) which would be looking to reduce the country’s reliance on general practice by expanding the range of services available from community pharmacies and allowing pharmacists more “prescribing powers”.
“Pharmacists will be able to manage and supply more medicines, without a prescription from a GP. We will look to go further on enabling pharmacists with more prescribing powers and making more simple diagnostic tests available in community pharmacy,” she said in her foreword to Our Plan for Patients.
However, the National Pharmacy Association has lamented that the plan stops short of promising any fresh funding for community pharmacies to deliver patient care and develop clinical services.
NPA vice-chair, Nick Kaye, said: “The life is being choked out of independent pharmacy businesses by the continuation of a fundamentally under-resourced contract in England.
“While the health secretary is busy telling broadcasters that pharmacies can relieve more pressure from GPs, the investment that’s needed to achieve this is nowhere to be seen.”
Under the new plan, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) would enable the pharmacies to manage and supply more medicines such as contraception without a GP prescription, which could potentially free up to two million general practice appointments a year, and taking referrals from emergency care for minor illnesses or symptoms, such as a cough, headache or sore throat.
Welcoming the secretary of state’s initiative, Dr Leyla Hannbeck, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said: “We will do what we can to ensure that Our Plan for Patients succeeds. We note, though, that while GPs are to receive extra funding, it is not clear if this extends to pharmacies who will be taking on more work to alleviate pressure elsewhere, including upon GPs.
“Pharmacies have consistently delivered, throughout the pandemic and beyond — they are experiencing significant workforce and financial pressures and we would like to see tangible recognition of this as well. The Health Secretary is expecting us to do more, but we’re also subject to additional costs across the board, not only in energy, as the cost of living crisis bites.”
The Company Chemists’ Association also said it would fully support the policy direction for pharmacies and pharmacists to be enabled to do more to support the health system, calling the new plan “a positive step forward which should ease GP pressures.”
However, it added expressed deep concern that the current financial pressures and the chronic shortage of pharmacists available to work in community pharmacy could limit the sector’s ability to fully support the secretary of state’s ambitions.
The association urged the NHS to undertake a system-wide review of the pharmacy workforce, and how community pharmacies are funded, to ensure that patients can access care when and where they need it the most.
“Community pharmacies pride themselves on their ability to provide accessible care, medicines and advice. We are keen to ease pressures on GP practices this winter and beyond. This new plan must be underpinned by the financial and workforce support that it needs if it is to succeed”.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) also expressed it’s concerns over the significant pressures in which community pharmacies operate and added that the sector would need to be properly resourced to carry out these additional services.
Chair of the RPS in England Thorrun Govind said: “To ensure patients get the most out of the NHS it’s important they receive care in the right place. A ‘Pharmacy First’ approach in England, where people can go directly to a community pharmacy to treat a minor health problem, would improve access by patients to the care they need and better manage demand right across primary care services.
“Pharmacists will be central to reducing health inequalities, managing the growing cost of long-term conditions and delivering best value from medicines for patients and the taxpayer.
“If we are to make the most of the next generation of pharmacist independent prescribers, we must see a more ambitious approach to advancing the clinical role of pharmacists across the NHS.
“This must all be supported by a comprehensive workforce plan, backed by investment in pharmacy education and training.”