Health Secretary Matt Hancock delivers addresses conference via video message. Steve Brine (L) and Simon Dukes join conference via live video link from London (Photos: Graphic Photo)

By Priyankur Mandav in Cebu, Philippines

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has announced a pilot for testing blood pressure in pharmacy later this year.

If the pilot is successful, the service will be commissioned nationwide, Matt Hancock told delegates at the 12th Sigma Community Pharmacy Conference in the Philippine island of Cebu on Monday (Feb 17) via a pre-recorded video message.

Although he didn’t give any details of the proposed service, the health secretary said it would be linked to the new GP contract.

“Together you can reduce premature death and disability caused by coronary heart disease in this country,” Hancock said.

Reiterating his strong support for community pharmacy, he restated: “We want to see community pharmacy far more integrated into the NHS working in collaboration with other primary and secondary care providers, ultimately with the goal of keeping people healthy in their communities, reducing the pressure on the other parts of the system.”

Hancock continued: “We want to hear from you on what you can do more of and how we can put through into the contracts in future and how we can bring that integration together.”

Sigma conference is hosted annually by one of the UK’s largest independent wholesalers, Sigma Pharmaceuticals, which serves over 3,000 pharmacies up and down the country. The business was started by Bharat Shah and his family from a single pharmacy shop in Watford in 1982.

Sigma directors at the conference (from left) Pravesh Patel, Hatul Shah, Bharat Shah, Kamal Shah, Rajiv Shah and Raj Haria

Held at exotic foreign locations, Sigma conferences seek to raise standards and share best practice within the pharmacy profession.

Chairing the conference, Sigma’s Executive Director, Hatul Shah, said: “I am also a superintendent pharmacist, a contractor and someone experiencing the same aspects of change that I am sure all of you are experiencing in your pharmacies.

“2019 has been a challenging year for the pharmacy sector, and as contractors, we continue to grapple with issues resulting from the category M clawback implemented from November 2018 through to March 2019.

Hatul Shah

“With the revolutionary and much anticipated announcement of the CPCF (Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework) in July 2019, which is the first to give us, as pharmacy owners, certainty about what the future holds for our sector so that we can start plan and make informed business choices.“

On government’s plans to introduce medical conversion courses for pharmacists and paramedics to become doctors, Shah said: “It’s already tough to recruit good pharmacy locums. How will we manage when there is further pressure placed on recruitment for our businesses as well as 6,000 pharmacists required for GP practices?”

Since the publication of its Long Term Plan, the NHS has been promoting community pharmacies as the first port of call for minor illnesses in order to free up GP surgeries and hospitals.

The flagship programme of national pharmacy contract, the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) has been dubbed as a potential game-changer for the sector.

But the conference heard concerns around workforce challenges.

Simon Dukes, chief executive officer of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee – who addressed the conference via a live video link in the wee hours on Monday – felt the successful roll-out of CPCS had used up a huge amount of pharmacists’ time.

Stating that “capacity is still something that concerns me considerably”, he said: “Decommissioning MURs would have freed up pharmacists’ capacity to carry out services. That capacity is already being used up.”

Speaking alongside Dukes from the PSNC headquarters in London at 2’O clock in the morning, Steve Brine MP said: “I’m very clear that opportunity knocks for your sector [community pharmacy].

“There’s no question you have some brilliant people both at the frontline and representing you inside the government.”

He said he was “disappointed” when David Cameron’s government announced a £200m cut to public health budget.

The former Pharmacy Minister was “even more frustrated at the way it had been done,” because for him “as the new minister picking up pieces, I saw it bluntly as a nuclear weapon aimed at the very heart of community pharmacy.”

The theme of this year’s conference ‘Seeing things Clearly’ was apt in the light of a new government in office and Brexit out of the way, said Sigma Co-Chairman, Kamal Shah in his welcome address.

He said the exotic Philippine islands were a perfect location for pharmacists to engage in what’s really close to their heart – the future of pharmacy and the security of their business.

“Patient care and patient outcomes – that will be prime focus for us as pharmacists, but this can only be achieved when we have safe and secure base to work from.”

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