Clare Howard, Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for NHS England, shares her thoughts on the future of community pharmacy

I first started work in a community pharmacy when I was 16 years old. I worked in an independent pharmacy in the heart of a fairly deprived area. I learned two important lessons from that first job.

Firstly how for some people following a strict medicine regime on top of a chaotic and often challenging day to day life is very difficult – and yet we in health care assume it just happens.  The second thing was the important role community pharmacies play at the heart of communities. Many have been in the community for generations, and local people rely on the accessibility and the support given to them by the staff in that pharmacy.

Since then I have worked in a range of community pharmacy settings. Over the years, community pharmacy has moved toward a more care based role with the introduction of enhanced services such as needle exchange, substance misuse services, vaccination services, repeat dispensing, Medicines Use Reviews and the New Medicines Service.

But as the Royal Pharmaceutical Society report Now or Never highlighted, there is so much more that could be delivered by community pharmacy, working in collaboration with local GP practices, community services and local hospitals, to improve the outcomes and experiences of patients and the public.

It is encouraging to see more and more pharmacy colleagues recognise the need to move away from just supplying medicines toward more clinically based, personalised care for patients.

How about a future where community pharmacy plays a broader role in supporting patients with long term conditions?  What about the local pharmacy as the place in a local area that is the first port of call for self-care and minor ailments?

Across the country, there are great examples of how pharmacy is already playing a key role in improving public health and keeping people well.   But, now we have the opportunity to bring local areas together to agree how service should look in the future.

This ‘Call to Action’, hosted by NHS England across the country will bring together community pharmacy, local Clinical Commissioning Groups, local government, patients, the public, hospitals and academics to debate the issues.

Nothing has been decided and everything is up for debate.  Your ideas and suggestions will build a picture both local and nationally about how community pharmacy can build on success and make better use of existing skills, knowledge and expertise to support the delivery of care closer to home and keeping people well.

Get involved with the conversation and help us improve the treat and care of local communities.  Have your say by completing the online survey.

Clare Howard

Clare Howard is Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for NHS England and is leading the work on Medicines Optimisation for NHS England. Clare first started working in pharmacy at the age of 16 and since then has worked with community pharmacists, primary and secondary care.