By Neil Trainis
A remote digital consultation service designed to help people give up smoking without needing to come into a pharmacy during the coronavirus pandemic has been launched in Kent.
Eight independent prescribers (IPs) have been recruited to the scheme, which started last week and aims to continue providing smoking cessation support, particularly for vulnerable people such as pregnant women, after face-to-face services had to stop because of social distancing measures.
The service was established after an agreement was struck between Kent local pharmaceutical committee and Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust.
IPs use phone and video consultations to provide support on quitting smoking and give advice on the use of treatments such as Champix. The service was inspired by Sunil Kochhar, a pharmacist at Regent Pharmacy in Gravesend and an IP, who asked Kent LPC to draw up a list of IPs in the county to ensure patients access medicines if they are out of stock and treat minor illnesses, alleviating the pressure on general practice.
He also started a network of IPs in Kent who meet each month to discuss ideas on overcoming health challenges in their local community.
In March, Kent LPC CEO Shilpa Shah told KCHFT that it wanted to help people stop smoking despite ending face-to-face consultations following low levels of referrals after people were told to stay at home.
Ms Shah told Independent Community Pharmacist that pregnant women were "understandably scared to visit pharmacies” for fear of catching the virus.
“We explained that we were going to suspend the service but we would try where possible to support pregnant women as (KCHFT) were concerned about that cohort of clients,” she said.
“The Trust were brilliant and supportive, fully understanding the situation that we were in. There was also the underlying concern from our pharmacists that smoking increases the risk of serious illness from Covid-19. We were keen for this to be one of the services that we prioritised.
“Towards the end of April when things were settling into a new normal we had a video call to discuss how we could start supporting clients who wanted to stop smoking.
“Pharmacies were still not ready for face-to-face consultations and pregnant women in particular were still nervous about visiting the pharmacy. This is when we started thinking about phone/virtual consultations and using our IPs for Champix.”
Ms Shah said she hoped the remote service would “help decrease smokers across Kent and also will show our key healthcare partners that IPs in community pharmacy are as valuable as IPs in any sector of the profession.”
She also revealed that concerns about the financial implications of coronavirus to community pharmacy led KCHFT to agree to pay 80 per cent “of the average activity over a 12-month period for April, May and June” for sexual health, weight loss, health checks and smoking cessation services, an agreement that will be reviewed in June.
Ms Shah added: “The partnership and communication between the trust and the LPC has been phenomenal and this has in Kent been exhibited across the county.”