“I'm a huge believer in community pharmacy and I've seen it for myself, I've seen the benefits of it… I'm a great fan and a great believer.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock has commended pharmacists and their teams for “stepping up to the plate” as he highlighted the importance of community pharmacy during the coronavirus crisis.

“We value the work that you do,” the health secretary told a virtual conference organised by the National Pharmacy Association on Monday (July 13).

Hancock also praised pharmacists for their efforts during the pandemic.

He said: “For those who didn’t understand the importance of community pharmacy before the crisis… how you worked, stayed open and served your community in the midst of the peak of the crisis, you have done your duty, and you’ve stepped up to the plate.”

“And for that, on behalf of all the communities you served, I want to say: ‘Thank you.’”

Biggest flu vaccination in history

Giving an insight into the government’s plans for this winter’s seasonal flu jabs, Hancock said he wanted pharmacies to be involved in the rollout of “the biggest flu vaccination programme in history.”

“We’re expecting high demand and pharmacies will play a critical role,” he added.

He said the government was currently working on how a Covid-19 vaccine rollout would work once a vaccine became available and that pharmacies would be used to deliver the programmes.

He noted that as the first port of call for health care, pharmacies were deeply embedded in his department’s drive to ensure that the NHS was always there for everyone, whether in the middle of a pandemic or after.

He added that “by being the eyes and ears on the ground and by understanding your communities,” pharmacies can help prevent people getting into a more serious condition.

Restating that community pharmacy was “a critical part” of the NHS, he said: “I’m certain that you are an untapped resource, who, when asked and supported to do more, can provide better care in our communities, and can make sure that people get a better service out of the entire NHS family.”

He added: “You are at the forefront of where the community and the citizens who we all serve meet the NHS.”

Cinderella of NHS family

To a question on why community pharmacists were being treated as the Cinderella of the NHS family and told that there were 3,000 too many pharmacies, Hancock said: “I don’t even recognize the number,” adding that such an idea ended “the day I became Secretary of State.

“I’m a huge believer in community pharmacy and I’ve seen it for myself, I’ve seen the benefits of it… I’m a great fan and a great believer.”

The health secretary said he was keen to see people with minor illnesses referred to community pharmacy to take pressure off GPs, noting that the pandemic has made this more challenging.

However, he added that the opportunities for the sector are huge with the possibility of 20 million GP appointments being referred to community pharmacies every year along with the resumption of other services which have been paused temporarily due to Covid-19.

Pharmacy provides better value

Hancock emphasised that the direction of work of the NHS was provide services as close to the home for people as possible and those that provided “the best possible value for money”.

“I see this opportunity, because there’s more services that we want to get down to the closer into communities. And we need to make sure that as we deliver those because there’s better value for money to be got from delivering those through pharmacies, and therefore everybody can win out of more use of community pharmacy.

“I look forward to the continued rollout of more and more clinical services, with the goal that all pharmacists should be operating at the top of their qualifications, at the top of their license, engaged with and supporting the communities who we serve to get the very best possible treatment as close to home as possible.”

Investment in technology

Hancock said the coronavirus crisis had “unlocked the leaps forward in technology.”

Alluding to his recent visits to pharmacies, he said “I’ve seen in action, the better technology, working in pharmacies, where the data and the records are linked to the rest of the health system, and where people can get a better service, because of the technology.”

The health secretary added that by helping improve the services, technology would allow the community pharmacy sector to be more integrated and better connected into the rest of the NHS.

Efficient dispensing

The health secretary wants to make the NHS systems “less bureaucratic” and free up more of the pharmacist’s time to create more capacity for clinical services.

“We will make dispensing more efficient in order to be able to free up time for the things that people really care about, to make sure that you’re spending as much time as you can face-to-face with your customers, our patients, the citizens who we serve.”

If you want to share your stories and/or experiences with us, please send an email to [email protected]