By Dr Mahendra Patel
The recently announced English community pharmacy contract, with a 5-year funding settlement now in place, gives renewed and refreshed positivity for better utilisation of, as well as building upon, the clinical skills of community pharmacists and their teams. During the winter season, community pharmacy and the wider team can play a crucial role in terms of the advice and range of services they offer to their customers and patients.
Readiness is all
As we know only too well, cold and wintry conditions often affect many people’s health adversely. It is imperative for pharmacy teams to prepare early in being able to offer the necessary and essential services with confidence during this busy time of the year. One good example is offering point-of-care testing for cold and flu symptoms, crucial in supporting antimicrobial resistance (AMR), as, of course, is the advice on good hand hygiene for the prevention and spread of bacteria.
Moreover, as the demand for the treatment of coughs, colds, fever, congestion, sore throats, cold sores etc. continues to escalate at high speed, and with many winter remedies now no longer available on NHS FP10 prescriptions, patients are constantly referred to see their pharmacist.
This leaves a huge potential for community pharmacists to provide a wider range of services and support to their patients and customers tailored to individual needs. Interestingly, with the average waiting time for a routine GP appointment now reported to be more than two weeks for the first time ever, it is quite feasible that a hard, long winter could extend these times even further.
However, the new pharmacy contract is timely in that respect, integrating community pharmacy into local NHS urgent care pathways through the national minor illness consultation service. Patients with a minor illness will now be connected to a community pharmacy as a first port of call and potentially help reduce this waiting significantly.
Language, culture, religion, beliefs and attitudes are often seen as barriers to accessing wider healthcare services in some communities. Proactively reaching out to communities, especially at a time of greatest need during the winter months, can often lead to the provision of a very meaningful and necessary pharmacy service.
Using pharmacy staff with different language skills can also prove invaluable in some circumstances. Developing a good rapport and building a sound professional relationship with patients, and often their families too, can help significantly break down some of these barriers.
Utilising the greater range of products now available over the counter due to the ever-increasing switches from POM to P categories, certainly allows for a wider choice in terms of prevention and protection services being offered. This is also useful where there is reliance upon offering private services. Offering flu vaccinations in pharmacies, increases the coverage rate of vaccination which is vital for the health of our population.
The winter season can be especially challenging for many, including the elderly, vulnerable and high-risk groups, often housebound due to poor and or ill health. Ensuring the health and wellbeing of the community is an important feature of community pharmacy services today.
The new contract is supportive of these services by making every community pharmacy a Healthy Living Pharmacy, and through greater upskilling of staff this will enable better utilisation of the wider pharmacy workforce.
Furthermore, this creates an environment for more effective use of the clinical skills of the pharmacists and wider engagement with patients. This will be a welcome proposal for community pharmacists offering enhanced and advanced services during the busy winter season.
Winter can also take a toll on people’s mental health as well as their physical health. One such example is seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression commonly known as the ‘winter blues’. Pharmacists have a huge role to play through offering changes to lifestyle with even advice on better sleeping habits and the possible use of domestic lamps as part of light therapy.
The elderly and housebound are a particular group that may need extra care during the winter season, and it is essential that they are also well informed regarding eating a healthy, balanced diet supplemented by vitamins where necessary, keeping warm, having extra clothing, drinking plenty of fluids and ensuring they have received their flu vaccinations.
The winter season is a great opportunity for pharmacists to become more visible, promote the wider range of services they offer, and to become more recognised as being essential to providing valuable care and support to patients within the community.
Professor Mahendra Patel is a member of the English Pharmacy Board.
This article also appears in the September issue of Pharmacy Business.