Given all that community pharmacy has contributed during the Covid pandemic, now is the time to finally recognise it as the vital third pillar in our national healthcare service, says Steve Anderson. Yet it is unclear whether pharmacy’s true value and potential will be recognised in the Government’s new healthcare reforms.
The promise is for better integrated healthcare planning and less bureaucracy, both of which are certainly to be welcomed. But if GPs, hospitals and social care are being asked to work more closely together to improve patient care, why not pharmacy too?
Disappointingly, there are no direct references to community pharmacy in the White Paper. I cannot understand how you can deliver a local integrated healthcare service without community pharmacy being at the top table of the proposed NHS ICS Boards: GPs, hospitals and community pharmacy are the holy trinity of our national healthcare system.
The Covid-19 vaccination roll-out is a prime example of how pharmacy’s extensive local network is not being mobilised to its full potential. While it’s rewarding to see many community pharmacy teams already playing a part in the mass vaccination effort, the Government needs to quickly rethink all the red tape to allow the thousands who are willing and able to help to do so.
The 2012 Government reforms overlooked and under-appreciated the value and potential of community pharmacy in delivering improved healthcare outcomes for our country. That is why we ended up with pharmacy funding austerity and a community pharmacy contract which is not fit for purpose. It is essential that pharmacy is included in the future shape of England’s primary care provision.
The Lansley reforms created mind-boggling complexity over who exactly was responsible for what; a competition-led strategy simply added to the confusion. Whilst there was much talk among policymakers about bringing various providers together to provide integrated care, the reality on the ground was and still does remain very different, with conflicting agendas and priorities among potential partners.
Healthcare reform that provides fairer and more sustainable pharmacy funding will be welcomed. This continues to be one of the biggest challenges community pharmacy faces and with 2021 bringing fresh demands on pharmacy teams, there will be further financial and operational pressures to manage while delivering against the service agenda.
Covid continues to change patient behaviours. A blend of face-to-face patient care and access to digital services is becoming the new norm while an ageing population will continue to dictate the shape and scale of future primary care service provision.
Any reverse of the Coalition’s reforms will need to address the vital contribution a network of 11,400 pharmacies can bring to delivering future-ready, local primary care across communities. Until this is realised, recognition will continue to fall way short.