As many as 3,000 community pharmacies are at risk after the Department of Health announced it was cutting their funding by £170 million. The Government says the cuts are justified because there are “more pharmacies than necessary” in some areas, leading to a “clustering” of High Street chemists. But new analysis by the National Pharmacy Association says 40 per cent of those under threat are found in the UK’s top fifth most deprived neighbourhoods. In comparison, less than five per cent of those at risk are in the country’s most affluent postcodes.
As usual the Government is more concerned with money than value for money. As a Liberal Democrat I believe that we need to deliver more medical and clinical services much nearer to where people live. Quite rightly some clinical activity is being concentrated in bigger more remote units because that is where the specialisms can be created to ensure much higher success rates or to put it another way much lower mortality rates.
This is where the humble chemist can come in. We underrate the skills of the pharmacists on our High Street and we do not take advantage of that High Street location. Almost every pharmacy know has a range of consulting rooms whereby confidential discussion and minor clinical activities could take place.
Much of what the pharmacists can do is already included in their costs. Too often we queue for valuable GP time when the advice we need is readily available at the pharmacy. Too often people clog up the GP’s surgery instead of getting hat advice. Pharmacists are not GPs but they have a high level of training. They can un deratke a range of things like giving injections; taking blood samples; issuing morning after pills; advice on sexual health; smoking cessation.
Pharmacy Voice has recently issued a new proposals for joint working with the Heath Service and other partners which sets out in some detail four principles by which they could cost effectively expand their work:
- Aiming to understand the patient’s experience. The pharmacists sees people regularly and understand the context in which people live. They can note decline they can understand the direction of a person’s illness. They can not only work in their shop but also in the community and in the person’s home.
This gives tremendous reassurance and continuity to a person’s interaction with the Health Service
- Evidence based choice of medicines. Yes I also agree that pharmacists should have a wider choice in prescribing drugs based on their wider knowledge not only of medical conditions but the ability to monitor drugs usage and put that usage and drug in the context of the needs of the individual. This approach will actually save money as one of the major causes of waste in the NHS is inappropriate and over prescribing.
- Ensuring medicine use is as safe as possible. Of course the safe and efficient supply of medicines must be the cornerstone of a pharmacists work.
- Make medicines optimisation part of routine practice. Community pharmacists will provide a one-stop hub for people who use medicines regularly.
As I have met the various pharmaceutical bodies I have been impressed with their passion for providing enhanced services from their readily accessible premises. As I have repeatedly said the only way we can ‘save the NHS’ is by thinking through better the way it does business and change the culture of people who use its services. In the future those pharmacies can become mini health centres from which a range of services can be provided. There is a massive amount of NHS resource which should not be cut but expanded to provide cost-effective and localised delivery.
I pledge all the pharmacy bodies which have come together in Pharmacy Voice the support of the Lib Dems and especially Norman Lamb in developing their aims.
They can improve services; getting practice nearer to the individual in cost effective and local situations. What’s not to like?!
(Richard Kemp CBE, is Leader of the Liverpool Liberal Democrats)