As we hold our sixth annual conference in September, Mike Holden reflects on why the twin themes of integration and innovation have been chosen for this year’s discussion…

This year we are once again holding our sixth conference over two evenings utilizing an online platform. I have nothing but admiration for pharmacy teams who are continuing to deliver safe patient care at the heart of their communities. Something I have experienced whilst supporting a local independent contractor in delivering a Covid-19 vaccination service where we have already provided over 30,000 vaccinations.

This outstanding care across the sector is against an ongoing backdrop of underfunding, major cash flow and workload challenges, and continued poor recognition of our critical role and the value added during the pandemic.

If there are any positives amid the many challenges, then it is the way in which many pharmacy teams and other healthcare providers have collaborated for the benefit of the local population. We have also witnessed local and national leadership bodies working closer together. This is something that should be further developed and leveraged as the NHS seeks to integrate community pharmacy into health systems.

What we have been doing will cement in the minds of the public, other health professionals and, one would hope, NHS commissioners, the role of community pharmacy as the frontline of healthcare at the heart of our communities.

As with many shopping behaviours, an increasing number of patients have chosen online pharmacy (distance selling pharmacy) to source their medicines during the pandemic. Around 4 per cent of prescriptions are now supplied through that route.

The challenge and opportunity for community pharmacy is now to engage locally, become embedded as an indispensable part of the local health system, and optimise the national and any locally commissioned services by delivering consistently high quality outcomes and patient experience. Pharmacies must also develop the non-NHS part of their income including self-care and treatment plus private services.

The future of health is local and that needs strong, capable and united pharmacy leadership at both local and national level. It also requires community pharmacy to be integrated and innovative.


Before Covid-19, which seems an age ago, the NHS Long Term Plan, the GP contract and the community pharmacy contractual framework began to align behind this integrated approach. Once this is all over, we must go back to the key objectives which are and should still be to focus on:

  • the prevention of illness;
  • personalised care;
  • utilising data and technology; and
  • making the best use of collective resources across all local health and care providers.

In February this year, the Secretary of State announced the latest Health and Care White Paper – Integration and Innovation: working together to improve health and social care for all. The paper sets out the legislative proposals for a new Health and Social Care Bill, one which intends to remove barriers to integration, reduce bureaucracy and create a system that is more accountable and responsive.

The ducks are lining up! We must ensure is that the intra and inter-professional collaboration continues beyond the pandemic and drives the need and opportunity for pharmacy in the community to be fully integrated into the local health and care systems. To be sustainable, this must extend beyond (yet still include) the important safe supply of medicines to a broader role in clinical care, protection and prevention, and be appropriately funded.


We are already experiencing a radical and rapid evolution in what community pharmacy looks like and does. Those who are agile and adapt to reflect the needs of commissioners and consumers of our services will continue to successfully operate as healthcare providers. Those who wait for someone else to do it for them may not.

What we see now is a shift from a contractual framework almost totally reliant on procurement and supply of medicines to one which is increasingly more service-led and quality based, driven by financial, population health and consumer demand. This requires the capacity, capability and premises to deliver this new model of pharmacy care.

New skills and skill-mix must be developed; operational efficiencies must be found; technology must be embraced; new services and products developed that people and commissioners want to buy; consistent high quality consumer experience must be delivered; and we must effectively promote what we do.

Digital healthcare and technology are now moving at such a pace with web-based information, social media, video consultations, algorithms, health-bots, digital screens and automation now common place.

We now have legislation that will enable hub and spoke prescription assembly once consultations with the sector and public are completed. Distance selling pharmacies now provide around 4 per cent of prescriptions and still growing, so transacting product alone is no longer a unique option nor a sustainable model for pharmacy in the community.

So, what is your unique selling point that differentiates your community pharmacy from a distance selling pharmacy or any other provider of healthcare?

All this change needs innovation at all levels, but predominantly at an individual pharmacy level.

The conference

The Pharmacy Business conference will bring together community pharmacists and stakeholders to showcase how pharmacy makes a difference to people’s health and wellbeing. We will also explore how to create a sustainable future through integration and innovation to meet the evolving needs of the consumers and commissioners of our services.

You will hear from the NHS what they want from community pharmacy within an integrated health and care system. Owners of independent pharmacies and others will share with you their innovative practice. Our stakeholder panels will reflect on the key elements of the sessions and your questions.

Please ensure that you are there on the evenings of September 21 and 23 to hear, participate and learn.

Michael Holden is chair of Pharmacy Business Conference and associate director of Pharmacy Complete.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here