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NI announces plan to integrate pharmacies in mental health services


NI announces plan to integrate pharmacies in mental health services

Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has announced plans for a “reorganisation of mental health services towards the community” that will see pharmacies more deeply embedded in care pathways.

In its mental health delivery strategy for 2023-24 – the second annual plan to be published as part of its 2021-2031 strategy – the Department sets out 35 proposed actions to improve mental health services, and says its plan will “mean involvement of all actors in the delivery of mental health” including GPs, community pharmacists and the voluntary sector.

It went on: “The reorganisation of mental health services towards the community will also mean fully involving those who deliver wider health and social care functions across Northern Ireland.

“The accessibility of community pharmacy and their relationship with their local population, including individuals suffering from mental ill health, means that they can play a vital role in providing accessible services to support people’s mental health.”

In addition to supporting patients with their medicines, pharmacies can help spot early signs of mental illness and signpost to other services, said the Department, adding: “Going forward, pharmacy teams in all settings, including community pharmacy, primary care and hospitals, must be included as key partners in mental health service development… it is expected that this will reduce waiting times [and] improve user satisfaction with access to services.”

There is particular mention of the role community pharmacy can play in meeting medicines optimisation goals such as tackling inappropriate polypharmacy, initiating medication reviews for children and young people and reducing adverse events.

Action 18 in the document states that the Department will “fully integrate the Medicines Optimisation Quality Framework and the Northern Ireland Medicines Optimisation Model into mental health service delivery by integrating pharmacy teams into all care pathways that involve the use of medicines to ensure appropriate help and support is provided to people who are in receipt of medication for their mental ill health”.

The Department did not clarify whether it plans to allocate funding to pharmacies outside the current core sum to provide additional mental health support or services to patients, and did not respond to P3pharmacy’s request for comment.

In a statement, it said there is not sufficient funding to meet all its original goals for 2023-24, and so it “has needed to prioritise the actions that can be delivered” during the financial year.

Department of Health permanent secretary Peter May said minister Robin Swann had allocated an additional £5.5m to help implement the plan, adding: “While I acknowledge this is less than the requirements set out in the Mental Health Strategy Funding Plan, I am confident this investment will have a significant impact on improving services for individuals.”

Mr May said: “Mental ill health remains a key challenge for us all, with many services continuing to experience considerable pressures, resulting in individuals waiting longer than we would like to access provision.

“This plan builds on the significant progress achieved to date on implementing the Mental Health Strategy, including on those actions delivered as part of the 2022/23 plan, and sets out clearly our key priorities for the coming year.”

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