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Pharmacists in England supports idea of ‘National Self-Care Strategy’, reveals report

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A new report based on research from pharmacists across England by Sanofi, has called for the introduction of a ‘national self-care strategy’ to relieve the burden currently faced by health services.

The new report, titled ‘Driving a self-care revolution in the UK’, explores the views of pharmacists, patients and doctors on self-care and the support needed to deliver it more effectively. While self-care policy measures are estimated to increase monetary savings for healthcare systems and national economies by 16%, this report highlights the right tools and resources are not yet in place to enable pharmacists to play a greater role in delivering self-care advice and medicines to patients.

“As many as 77% of pharmacists said they would support the creation of a National Self-Care Strategy to provide national leadership on improving understanding of self-care and encourage its use among both patients and clinicians,” the report said.

According to the report, currently, 33% of pharmacists working for independent or small pharmacy chains do not have the resources to support patients with self-care, alongside their other roles. “To tackle this, close to half (45%) of pharmacists believe greater emphasis by primary care practitioners on the benefits of self-care would leave pharmacists in a better place to support patients. Similarly, 42% believe that training and recruiting more pharmacists would improve their capacity to deliver self-care advice.”

It also highlighted the challenges with access to medicines for pharmacists. The research found that close to a quarter (23%) of pharmacists do not have a broad enough range of over-the-counter medicines to meet needs, meaning they’re not able to provide patients with the correct products.

This figure dramatically increases among the most experienced pharmacists, with 68% of those who have been qualified for more than 15 years agreeing they don’t have access to a broad enough range of over-the-counter medicines.

Because of this, 70% of pharmacists said they would support a review of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) current switching process to determine if improvements can be made that would deliver a better range of over-the-counter medicines for self-care.

For example, 42% of pharmacists would prioritise switching cough, cold and flu medicines from prescription to over-the-counter to ensure they have a wide enough selection of drugs available to support patients with self-care. Similarly, another of the key drug areas this lack of access has been impacting is sexual dysfunction drugs, with 30% of pharmacists saying they would prioritize switching drugs in this category to over-the-counter.

Harsh GK, Managing Director and General Manager, Sanofi UK and Ireland, said: “We all know the NHS is facing unprecedented pressures – everything from an ageing population, ever tighter budgets, and the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These pressures are felt particularly in primary care, but we’ve seen that many GP appointments are for conditions that can be managed safely and effectively at home, with the help of a pharmacist and medication. As an example, a blocked nose or dandruff.

“More people live within a 20-minute walk of a pharmacy than a GP surgery which highlights the vital role pharmacists can play in reducing the burden on the NHS. It’s clear that pharmacists are becoming ever more important, and we hope this report highlights that with access to the right medicines and information, self-care can – and should – help unlock better health for people.”

Dr Paul Goggin FRPharmS MAPS, Global Head of Switch (Science), Sanofi, said: “This report has highlighted just how important good quality self-care options, such as OTC medications, are. These are vital in ensuring that pharmacists can provide people with the best information and tools to help them self-treat ailments both safely and effectively. The report also shows that health literacy, education and high-quality information provided to patients and practitioners alike is critical. With a broader range of quality self-care options being made available, as well as a greater focus on education, England has a real opportunity to protect and preserve the vital resources of the NHS.”

Michelle Riddalls, Chief Executive, PAGB, the consumer healthcare association, said: “Self-care means something different to everyone, from healthy eating to managing minor ailments and longer-term conditions. This report by Sanofi highlights the breadth of conversations we need to have so everyone – patients and medical professionals alike – understands what self-care can do and the impact it can have.

Understanding self-care is only the start though, and if we want everyone to unlock the benefits of it, we must make sure there is greater access to important over-the-counter medicines so patients can turn to pharmacists and get the support and the help they need both quickly and efficiently.”

The research suggests that pharmacist reimbursement needs to evolve as self-care becomes more critical. Only a quarter (27%) of pharmacists believe the current approach to pharmacist reimbursements reflects the value provided by pharmacists in dispensing self-care, while over a third of pharmacists (35%) believe the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service is not fit for purpose.

Pre-pandemic, some 18 million general practitioner appointments and 3.7 million accident and emergency visits were for minor ailments, at an estimated annual cost of £1.5 billion.Many of these ailments include blocked noses, travel sickness and dandruff which can largely be managed and treated at home successfully, with the support of pharmacists and self-care.

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