Community pharmacies to be at the forefront of NHS efforts to save lives

Dr Bruce Warner, Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England, explains why today’s announcement of the third-year agreement of the five-year Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework is a good thing for patients and community pharmacy teams

Community pharmacies have played a major role in supporting and caring for patients during the pandemic and we’ve heard many comments about the health benefits that community pharmacists and their teams can provide, and how much more they could do to keep people well, or identify those at an early stage of illness.

The question on a lot of people’s lips is, how do we make this a living, breathing reality for people in England?

Many of us are already accessing pharmacies for a wider variety of health services – flu vaccines, COVID vaccines and minor illness consultations.

The good news is, just over two years into the five-year framework, we have the rollout of another major clinical service initiative across England, aimed at preventing or identifying early cardiovascular disease, following a successful pilot.

From October, the vast majority of pharmacies will start to deliver a pro-active blood pressure testing service to the over-40s. Ensuring the NHS finds more undiagnosed cardiovascular disease and saves thousands of lives.

Our local community pharmacies will have the equipment and training to perform blood pressure tests and refer people on for treatment if needed.

And that’s not all the NHS is managing to deliver, with the help of community pharmacists and their teams up and down the country, while in the midst of supporting patients during the ongoing pandemic:

  • Community pharmacy teams will take an expanded role in supporting people diagnosed with heart failure, high cholesterol, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, gout and osteoporosis who will now be able to access a ‘New Medicine Service’ conversation with their local pharmacist about how to get the most from newly prescribed medicines. Research shows that patients who access this service are much more likely to take them in a way that will give them the outcomes they are looking for.
  • An updated Pharmacy Quality Scheme begins in September and, among a raft of measures, most pharmacies will start to support people who would like help managing their weight, including the provision of advice and referring them to support/exercise groups, the NHS Digital Weight Management Programme and local authority funded weight management services.
  • Community pharmacies will also be doing their bit to protect the environment by encouraging people to return unwanted and used inhalers for disposal at their local community pharmacy.
  • Further work will get underway to expand the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service referral routes for people with minor illnesses, or in need of an urgent medicines supply, to Emergency Departments and Urgent Treatment Centres, while continuing to support implementation of the GP referral pathway. This will help the NHS greatly through the coming winter and enable general practices and hospital teams to focus on waiting lists.
  • A new smoking cessation service starting early next year will provide a truly seamless service for patients, allowing NHS trusts to refer patients who have stopped smoking in hospital to a local community pharmacy on discharge, to continue that support. This will make it super easy for people to get the right medication or nicotine replacement therapy and the personal support they need to quit for good.
  • A new, single system for the allocation and funding of training places for pharmacists in their final training year before registration across England, overseen by Health Education England, will ensure better quality and consistency of training, providing a strong foundation to be able to deliver the NHS services required for the future.
  • We are also re-focusing efforts on supporting the implementation of the Discharge Medicines Service.

In addition, a new three-year programme of education and training for community pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will be introduced this Autumn to enhance their clinical and patient consultation skills further – including training some community pharmacists as independent prescribers with more training courses offered as capacity builds.

This is a fundamental step change for community pharmacists, enabling them to be able to work more flexibly within the primary care network setting to better support GP practices. And perhaps equally as important, it properly acknowledges the clinical skills and vast experience of community pharmacists, providing them with a route to higher levels of practice.

I hope that today’s new agreement will further enable and support collaborative working and building those necessary relationships with clinical pharmacists in primary care networks, better connecting community pharmacy into the local NHS whilst providing an even greater degree of professional fulfilment for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians working in community pharmacy.

Dr Bruce Warner

Dr Bruce Warner, Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England, works closely with the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer on the strategic and operational development of medicines policy for NHS England.

Prior to this post, Bruce worked as Deputy Director of Patient Safety at the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) and in NHS England where he led on the strategy for patient safety improvement and headed up the patient safety advice and guidance function.

Bruce has worked in most sectors of pharmacy including community, hospital, academia and at a PCG/T. He is also a visiting Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the University of Huddersfield.