Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to fight for her draft divorce deal with the European Union on Thursday
Prime Minister Theresa May holds

By Shailesh Solanki and Sarwar Alam in Muscat, Oman

Prime minister Theresa May has voiced her strong support for community pharmacy, calling it the ‘frontline of the NHS’.

“Community pharmacy is a vital part of the healthcare system. In many ways, it is the frontline of the NHS, providing support to the many millions of people who rely on your businesses for access to medicines and healthcare advice.

“The Government recognises the vital role community pharmacy plays in maintaining and improving health of the communities you serve,” she said in a message to delegates at the 11th annual Sigma Conference in Muscat, Oman.

“The Government wants to build upon the innovative success of community pharmacy, encouraging further collaboration and partnership with the NHS to develop stronger role for community pharmacists,” she added.

Over 250 delegates attended this year’s conference at Shangri-La Palace in Muscat, Oman, with the theme ‘Securing the Future’ for community pharmacy.

In separate messages, Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and Steve Brine, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health, with responsibility for pharmacy, reinforced the call for pharmacy to be the ‘first port of call’ for patient care.

“I want to see community pharmacies doing much more,” said Hancock. “In this country, too often we go to the GP, when our problems can often be solved by pharmacists. I want us to be a country where more often our first port of call is to go and see the pharmacy.

“I see community pharmacy as an asset in the community helping people to stay healthy and that’s the vision I want for the whole health system in the UK.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock delivers keynote speech at the Annual Meeting of the International Association of National Public Health Institutes on 5 November 2018.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock

Brine added: “Community pharmacy plays a vital role in keeping people healthier in the community for longer. It is uniquely placed to achieve this in the heart of every single community. The Government wants to see community pharmacy embraced more fully as the first point of call for health advice.

“The NHS long term plan sets out the Government’s ambition to better utilise the skillset of community pharmacy to both deliver more services to people and to relieve pressure on other parts of the system and cements pharmacy first in dealing with minor illness.”

The government’s support comes after a series of swingeing cuts to pharmacy funding over the last two years which were bitterly opposed by the National Pharmacy Association (NAP) and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC). The two organisations took the government to court over the cuts but lost after a hard-fought legal battle.

There was a distinct change in tone to this year’s conference as pharmacy leaders sought to set out a vision for the profession to be an integral part of primary care.

The conference heard pharmacy leaders debate a new vision and funding model for community pharmacy offering a variety of services to patients from minor ailments to mental health, all aimed at easing the pressure on GPs and A&E services.

In a hard hitting and thought provoking presentation, Hemant Patel, a former president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said ‘the current community pharmacy business model is dead.’

“There will be a 40 per cent reduction in prescription volumes by 2025. Community pharmacy needs to adopt a High Street Clinic model and embrace technology and the digital age.”

Hemant Patel

NPA chief executive Mark Lyonette stressed the sector’s leaders were doing everything they can to secure the future of community pharmacy.

“At the moment, because of Brexit, we can’t start negotiations with the Government for the pharmacy contract and there is no clarity of vision for the future,” he said.

“However, we are pushing alongside PSNC, for a five year deal just like the GPs that will give security and opportunities for community pharmacists to become trained clinical practitioners in the primary healthcare sector.”

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

The conference seeks to raise standards and share best practice within the pharmacy profession.

Hatul Shah, executive director at Sigma, said: “The conference has probably been the best ever. What we have seen is my father’s vision come to fruition where we had all the different industries, within the sector such as wholesalers, manufacturers, distributors and community pharmacists come together and collaborate. To see the pressures each face and how we can work together to progress.

Hatul Shah

“We have been hearing for years that we need to change the way we are doing things and this conference gives people the platform on how community pharmacy can evolve.”

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