Safeguarding NHS Community Pharmacy Services

I have led a debate in Parliament in support of community pharmacists.

In a letter written to Community Pharmacists on the 17th December the Department of Health talked about the potential for far greater use of community pharmacy and pharmacists. The letter refers to the role of community pharmacists in prevention of health; support for healthy living; support for self-care for minor ailments and long-term conditions; medication reviews in care homes, and as part of more integrated local care models.

This is exactly the right direction and, as an MP representing a Cornish seat where every effort is being made to integrate health and social care, I see the community pharmacist as an essential player in a new NHS equipped to meet the demands that modern society places upon it.

In the same letter the department set out its plan to reduce its funding commitment for Community Pharmacy by £170m.

Herein lies the problem. We have a frontline NHS service valued and depended upon, able to embrace new clinical responsibilities, able to meet the demands of an ageing population but unsure about their future and unclear about what support they can expect from the Government. The letter sets out the £170m reduction in support for community pharmacy, asks them to prepare for the cut but gives little detail about where the money will be cut, who will lose and what services can no longer be funded.

I see the Community Pharmacist as having a similar role as the sub-post office, our postmen, village shop, chapel and pub. They have an important part to play in local communities: they are the glue that holds communities together.

Reform to Community Pharmacy is not something we can afford to get wrong. In West Cornwall many of the Community Pharmacists are independent businesses that have been established for decades. A wrong move by the government now may make these community resources unviable.

We all know community pharmacists provide important services:

These include:

The safe dispensing of medicines 

They are often the first port of call for people with minor ailments & health concerns and are a key support for elderly and vulnerable patients in the community.

Community Pharmacies’ have a vital role in giving advice & in diverting patients from GPs and Emergency Departments.

For a tourist area like Cornwall they take their share of the extra demand during the height of the season.

Most recently my local community pharmacists administered ‘Flu’ jabs to increase uptake.

They regularly get prescriptions to patients out of hours when no alternative would be available.

Healthwatch Cornwall recently surveyed Cornish residents about access to community pharmacies. 69% said they regularly visit their pharmacy, 74% of these felt comfortable talking to the pharmacist about their health, 78% felt well informed by their pharmacists when taking new drugs and 93% said the pharmacist was polite and helpful.

One constituent recently wrote to me as follows:

“I come from a long line of Doctors, a category of person who can be unappreciative of the local pharmacist. But I am a warm supporter of Nigel, our local pharmacist, and proud to be so. He is always ready to help when I forget ( as one does at the age of 95) to re-order a medicament, and when my doctor is unavailable, or just pushed for time, I do not hesitate to ask Nigel for advice, which I follow with a confidence that is always rewarded.

Yours sincerely
(Professor) John Dancy”

Community Pharmacists are highly trained and trusted Healthcare professionals, qualified to Master level and beyond – their knowledge base covers far more than drugs alone making them ideal health care professionals to relieve pressures on GPs and other areas of the NHS.

And 

Community Pharmacists are welcoming changes & embracing new clinical opportunities. However the proposed funding cuts will not support the transition from a supply based service to the more clinically focused service that the Government desires and our patients deserve. Cuts will discourage progress and can only result in the small, independent and much loved businesses failing at the expense of patients, the public and the wider NHS.

I am well aware that there is a need to secure better value for money in areas of the NHS.

Over the weekend I met with community pharmacists in Newlyn, St Ives and Carbis Bay. They all talked of opportunities they see where savings could be made:

They are willing and able to see more patients.

Pharmacists give FREE over the counter advice to thousands everyday, promoting self-care & diverting patients from GP & urgent care services. But an estimated £2bn GP consultations per year are still taken for patients with symptoms that pharmacists could treat.

They want to have a greater role in prescribing drugs to reduce waste.

£2 million worth of unused drugs were returned to community pharmacists in Cornwall last year to be destroyed.

Pharmacists are best placed to addressed this scandal.

They want to do more to support people with mental health illnesses.

They are keen to provide continued care of people with diabetes and other long-term conditions.

My local community pharmacists want to work with the Department of Health to improve services, engage in health and social care integration, improve drug waste reduction and improve access to records to support prescriptions.

Derek Thomas 
Member of Parliament for St Ives