Leyla Hannbeck is chief executive officer at the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies

By Leyla Hannbeck

The recent report by EY was a valuable account of the state of community pharmacy in England. What’s more, this referenced and evidenced compilation by independent auditors only augments the conclusions which have been heavily publicised by the Association of Independent Multiples (AIMp) throughout the past 12 months, and the revelations in the report have been consistent with our own conclusions.

The AIMp #pharmacyheroes campaign in May this year captured the gratitude and sentiments from patients through photographic illustrations. Thousands of patients sent their supportive messages thanking pharmacy teams for their bravery and hard work. Those accounts mirrored the EY favourability score of 81 per cent and how that surpassed the ranking of other healthcare providers, notably the general practitioners.

The dramatic decline in A&E at the height of the pandemic created, as we are all aware, an unparalleled demand for advice and reassurance at the doors of community pharmacies. Pharmacy was there to meet that demand and the sector did it with resilience and agility, without publicity and often without any acknowledgement.

The EY report recognised how pharmacy consultations could relieve the demand pressures on GPs. However, as AIMp has been highlighting that pharmacies are working to the brink of their capacity and professional limits.

I believe community pharmacy represents tremendous value as the UK’s per capita expenditure on medicines is around 16 per cent, below the OECD average. The EY report highlights a 19 per cent deficit in revenue equating to almost 500 million per year.

This is an accurate account of the quantum required for pharmacy to focus on the future rather than wrestle with the present. It is a sobering thought to even contemplate that as many as 85 per cent of pharmacies will look to exit in four years.

We recognise as a sector that we need to embrace change and innovation. Our members have always embraced new services but they regularly find that local barriers make these difficult to establish at scale – we need the decision makers to empower and support us to truly be that front door to the NHS, not just in words but in actions.

Earlier this year, this sector was not getting any mentions in any government speeches. As a pharmacist it made me upset to see my profession not mentioned at all or coming at the bottom of the pile when it came to references to frontline workers in healthcare, yet pharmacy teams were risking their lives to keep their pharmacy doors open to ensure patients received the care they needed.

Hannbeck welcomes Prime Minister Johnson at an AIMp member pharmacy in west London

Change of perceptions begins by letting the decision makers see for themselves what we are capable of as a sector. AIMp invited the Prime Minister to visit one of our member pharmacies and hear first-hand about the good work pharmacy teams do.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently visited an AIMp member pharmacy to receive his flu jab, and our members are encouraged and regularly engage with their local MPs. All of this helps boost the profile of the sector and highlight how we can be a solution within the healthcare setting.

We also worked closely as a sector with NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care to get pharmacy recognised, and now thanks to the effective lobbying and advocacy and tremendous good work pharmacy teams have continued doing during this pandemic, pharmacy workers are being regularly referred to as hard working teams on the frontline, most recently by the Prime Minister.

AIMp had a meeting with the Chair of NHS England Lord David Prior and the Chair of NHS Digital Noel Gordon, and senior executives at NHS England in September. This was one of the most positive meetings I have been involved in with NHS England and it filled me with hope and optimism that community pharmacy is on its way to be at the heart of the country’s healthcare provision.

This journey may take time but at least it has firmly started.

This exclusive article also appears in the print edition of Pharmacy Business/October 2020.

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