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NHS should focus on expanding number of services available within pharmacies, suggests a report

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Pharmacies and other spaces should be able to facilitate the provision of health care to bring services closer to patients and reduce demands on general practice, suggested a report by Tony Blair Institute.

In a paper ‘Modern and Sustainable NHS Providing Accessible and Personalised Care for All’, it has propose six areas for reform where radical-but-practical policy action will begin to transform the future of the NHS and deliver better patient care.

It has proposed to create new access routes for services and providers. It added: “The range and availability of health-care services must increase to reflect citizens’ demands and their increasingly complex needs.

“Pharmacies, gyms, supermarkets, workplaces and other spaces should all be able to provide or facilitate the provision of health care, bringing services closer to patients and reducing demands on general practice.

It suggested: “We must move towards greater community-based care and the creation of a neighbourhood health service, with more routes for direct patient access, to ensure services are available when and where people need them. These should all be accessible through a single, simple digital front door to the NHS.”

“We already know that patients across the board are struggling to access primary care. As a first step the NHS should therefore focus on expanding the number of services available at existing sites within the community, including pharmacies, supermarkets, workplaces and gyms. This will make services easier to access and reduce demands on GPs.

Future Health, the UK’s largest-ever research study into prevention, is leading the way by providing its screening services predominantly through community pharmacies.

According to the report, many more services could and should follow suit, beginning with those that are a) focused on prevention and early diagnosis, b) require low levels of upfront capital investment and c) are relatively simple to administer.

It added: “From annual flu vaccinations to human papillomavirus (HPV) screening services, routine blood-pressure checks and cholesterol monitoring, these preventative services should increasingly be made available in convenient locations.”

Once these foundations are in place, new ways of providing additional care in community settings could be created. This could be done, for example, by establishing open-access hubs offering community-based diagnosis and early intervention to support people with mental-health and musculoskeletal conditions, or through expanding the Pharmacy First scheme to allow commissioning pharmacists to prescribe medication for a wider range of conditions, such as hypertension and sexually transmitted diseases.

“We set out the potential to expand the role of community pharmacists in A Prescription for Community Care: Expanding the Role of Pharmacies. This would make full use of the fact that all pharmacy graduates will qualify as independent prescribers from 2026, which could free up a massive 30 million GP appointments in England every year.

In the longer term, community care must evolve to ensure it is better able to meet the specific needs of each local population and to address wider determinants of health.”

Commenting on the report, the Company Chemists Association (CCA) said: “Their analysis of the potential to expand Pharmacy First, predicated on Independent Prescribing, is based on the CCA’s recent Pharmacy First analysis. As a reminder, this paper notes that current plans for Pharmacy First will free up 6m GP appointments annually – but an ambitious Pharmacy First service in England could free up 30m+ GP appointments each year.”

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