Jeremy Hunt is prepared to personally engage with pharmacists regarding a manifesto pledge to make greater use of the pharmacy sector in healthcare, he has told delegates at Confed17.

Speaking for the first time since being reappointed as Secretary of State for Health, Mr Hunt said that he envisaged a ‘bigger role’ for pharmacy.

Responding to a Q&A session question from the NPA’s policy manager Helga Mangion on whether he would engage personally with frontline pharmacists, Mr Hunt commented that while the DH has not “exploited the tremendous skills that pharmacists have nearly as effectively as we might”, he was “more than happy to engage with [pharmacists] personally”. 

A 'difficult period'

He acknowledged that financial cuts have led to a “difficult period for the sector”, but did not comment on the threat of pharmacy closures or the potential impact this could have.

Mr Hunt said: “I recognise that it’s been a difficult period for the pharmacy sector, we have asked you to make savings just as we have asked every other part of the NHS and social care system to make efficiencies savings, but let’s be clear – this is not about seeing a smaller role for pharmacy, it is about seeing a different and bigger role for pharmacy.”

He pointed to developments such as pharmacists having access to summary care records, which he suggested would support them to provide advice that could keep people out of A&E departments.

He also said that planned updates to the NHS 111 service would drive more people to their local pharmacy: “We’re moving towards… a 111 app that people can use instead of calling 111, which will much more quickly and effectively direct people who need to go to their local pharmacy, so I think we want a closer relationship with pharmacists but it’s a different relationship."

From the sector

Earlier this week PSNC chief executive Sue Sharpe commented: “Now that Jeremy Hunt has been given the opportunity to re-engage with those who work in the health and care system, we hope that he will take the time to reflect on the benefits of using pharmacy to help in the crisis confronting the NHS and seek to work differently with the sector going forward. PSNC will want to meet with Mr Hunt and the health minister responsible for pharmacy at the earliest opportunity, to ensure they develop policies that develop the community pharmacy service.”

NPA chairman Ian Strachan said: “We hope that Jeremy Hunt will encourage fresh thinking in his Department about pharmacy policy – seeing local pharmacies as a solution to many long standing problems in the NHS.  A pledge in the Conservative Manifesto – that pharmacies will play a stronger role to keep people healthy outside hospital - provides the basis for constructive dialogue that has been missing recently.” 

“With consistent support, pharmacies can do much more to take pressure off GPs and hospitals, make access to NHS care more convenient, help people with long-term conditions, tackle medicines waste, save the NHS money and become the front door to health in the UK.”

NHS priorities

The Q&A session followed a speech in which Mr Hunt outlined what he sees as four main priorities for the NHS: supporting staff; financial efficiencies;  transformation of mental health; and making sure that health services ‘don’t take their foot off the accelerator when it comes to critical improvements in safety’.

He concluded by saying that to achieve these goals, “we are going to need to remember our staff at every step of the way. And we are going to need to remember our values, those values that caused the NHS to be set up nearly 70 years ago, and those same values that just as they turned heads all over the world then, if we get this right will continue to turn heads all over the world for many years to come.”

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