LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 13: Chancellor Philip Hammond leaves number 11 Downing Street to present the Spring Statement in Parliament on March 13, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Philip Hammond’s spring statement would have done little to allay the concerns community pharmacies have over their futures, says Hitesh Dodhia

 

Following reports that the characteristically dry ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ would shorten the once hugely important speech – often referred to as the ‘mini-Budget’ – into a condensed 20-minute announcement, Hammond chose to focus largely on revised economic forecasts.

In fact, the speech failed to mention any new noteworthy spending commitments which are sorely needed by pharmacies and the health service as a whole, instead loosely promising to fund the NHS if “management and unions can reach a deal.” It is a big ‘if’ most people would agree.

From the pressures of an aging population through to the inefficiencies of a cash-strapped NHS, the government provided no solutions to biggest challenges facing the UK’s healthcare sector. For pharmacies especially, there will be particular concern as the lack of action comes after LloydsPharmacy announced in late 2017 that it is closing 190 stores due to funding cuts and higher businesses rates.

Wasting one of the two annual opportunities to overturn spending commitments and introduce new reforms or policies, the chancellor chose to focus on economic forecasts over addressing the “challenging market conditions” facing pharmacies across the country. This inaction means that the vital services pharmacies provide as the first port of call for patients is under threat.

Commissioning research earlier in the year, PharmacyOutlet.co.uk’s survey of 2,000 UK adults found just how worried people are about the closure of pharmacies. With one out of 10 stating that their nearest local pharmacy is either closed or going to close soon, it is easy to see how far-reaching the issue is.

Indeed, despite pharmacists providing advice, medication and repeat prescriptions, the failure of the government to address the closure of pharmacies means that the health of the country is at risk. According to the research 38% of UK adults fear that pharmacy closures will negatively impact their health.

With budgets tight and cracks widening, there is of course no simple solutions to the problems facing the NHS, GPs and pharmacies. But it seems increasingly clear that digital solutions – or digitisation more generally – has an important role to play in alleviating the strain on professionals across the healthcare industry. The electronic prescription service (EPS) is a good example of this.

If the closure of high street pharmacies continues, the value of initiatives such as EPS will only rise. By moving processes such as repeat prescriptions, booking appointments or receiving medical advice online, the time and money spent by patients travelling to a GP or pharmacy will be reduced. In turn, the service providers themselves also benefit from efficiency gains, enabling them to do more with less.

The government’s role is three-fold: it must consult with experts in the healthcare space to come up with creative ways to overcome challenges in the sector, embracing tech where possible; it must allocate sufficient funding to get the initiatives off the ground; and it must ensure there is suitable education to raise awareness among patients across the UK.

The latter is particularly important. PharmacyOutlet.co.uk’s survey found that 60% of the population do not know what EPS is, with this creating an immediate barrier to uptake.

Theresa May et al have signalled their intent to achieve the above but the spring statement did little to put new policies in the limelight. So, while there have been small steps towards the digital transformation we need to see take hold in this industry, much more needs to be done and fast.

 

Hitesh Dodhia is superintendent pharmacist at PharmacyOutlet.co.uk

 

 

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