By Jeremy Meader
As the dust starts to settle on what has been an arduous two years, another journey is underway as healthcare professionals look to build and take on a new line of defence to help members of the public live with Covid.
Community pharmacies have been stalwarts of the pandemic, tirelessly serving communities despite spiralling costs and mounting capacity pressures. Pharmacy has successfully defended itself and is positioned well to navigate the challenges and opportunities this next public health chapter presents.
Vaccinations are the UK’s best defence for living with Covid, so I agree with NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) that community pharmacy should be the lead provider for all future vaccinations. From leading all future booster programmes for the most vulnerable, including those aged 12 plus who are at risk, to driving the vaccination programme for all five to 11-year-olds, pharmacy is the critical third pillar of the NHS at the heart of communities.
Why put further strain on primary care networks (PCNs) to deliver when community pharmacy has the extensive infrastructure to help all ages build immunity? I just hope the red tape is lifted to see even more pharmacies come on board to help administer and protect.
However, it’s not just administering vaccines that will form community pharmacy’s defence against Covid. Integrated community healthcare will benefit patients, but it will only be effective if the new Integrated Care Systems include community pharmacy at the heart of both strategy and provision. Managing NHS resources more efficiently and effectively is needed, and sharing responsibility is the best way to achieve that. Community pharmacy should be empowered by the opportunity to champion everyday health and indeed how we live with Covid moving forward.
There is more that unites healthcare providers in collective interest than divides them, when it comes to charting a future pathway for living with Covid. Community pharmacies offer walk-in advice and care on the doorstep of the most vulnerable. They are the most accessible point of care in communities.
Creating an everyday welfare hub for help and guidance on how best to manage Covid will help put customers’ minds at ease while easing demand
on primary care providers. Meanwhile, contractual demands to shift funding from dispensing to service provision will only help meet local communities’ ever-growing health and wellbeing needs.
The sector in England may well be entering uncertain and potentially stormy commissioning waters, but one thing is for sure: community pharmacies know their audiences and are best placed to serve them well. Change – albeit daunting for some – that increases access to improved quality of care will only help safeguard and future-proof community healthcare provision for all.
Relieving the overall pressure across local healthcare systems is of common interest to everyone. So let ‘living with Covid’ be the exciting next chapter community pharmacy narrates for its own future. To help that along, we need to see future local healthcare structures which enable community pharmacy to be positive, progressive, and effective.
We’re looking to equip and support Numark members with the technology, propositions, and advice they need to move forward, while continuing to lobby government in England for fairer funding to be able to redefine the role of community pharmacy within all healthcare visions and reforms.
As we embark on year four of the five-year pharmacy contract, challenges remain, but opportunity is there for those looking to ready themselves for the years ahead. Pharmacy teams need to make change work hard for them.
As a powerful network, we cannot stand still whilst the world around us moves on. Equally, we need to ensure community pharmacy’s tried-and-proven mixed economy of independents, multiples and national chains can thrive under increasing change.
Jeremy Meader is the managing director of Numark