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‘Pharmacy needs better funding to enable integration’

Funding issues must be taken seriously before community pharmacy can integrate with other areas of healthcare, says Laura Buckley

Pharmacy may never be the same after the COVID-19 outbreak. Whether we see changes in the public perception of the role of pharmacy teams, or enormous shifts in service provision, the aftermath of the pandemic may make the future of pharmacy very different to how we envisioned it six months ago.

So if anything could change the course of healthcare as we know it, COVID-19 could. In recent months our pharmacy teams have overcome challenges including a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), medicine shortages, and taking on a delivery service.

We have worked in circumstances so extreme that just last year they would have shocked and horrified us. When the stories we used to hear about practice in other countries became our reality, our teams had no choice but to carry on with business – although this time not as usual. But when the aftermath of the COVID-19 spike has passed, what will our day-to-day work entail?

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiples (AIMp), suggested last month that pharmacies should provide COVID-19 antibody testing as part of the sector’s integration into wider healthcare. It goes without saying that community pharmacies certainly have the capability to provide the service, but do they have the resources? 

The sector is woefully unprepared to provide such a service, which would add to the existing pressures of finding PPE, maintaining staffing levels and sourcing funding.  

But if the sector is granted an improvement of current funding, supported by the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) to provide COVID-19 testing in-house, I believe local pharmacies could soon become testing hubs for their communities.

COVID-19 antibody testing is just a taster of the possible ventures that are being explored for the future of pharmacies. With the focus of primary care networks (PCNs) shifting to care homes, there’s a gap for pharmacists in the community to integrate into multidisciplinary teams in a shared-care approach to enhance healthcare provision for patients.

But again, issues with funding and capacity for extra healthcare provision must be seriously considered if integration is to work well. The opportunities for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in the improvement of community health are limitless, but very few have shown desire to make a move forward.

The sector has lagged behind in embracing new services, but this is not because pharmacy teams do not wish to improve – a lack of resources holds them back. Discontentment in pharmacy appears to exist because the bodies that represent it have thus far been unsuccessful in pushing the boundaries of its capability.

The belief among pharmacy teams is that they have not secured enough resources to support their workloads This raises the question as to how we can begin to make positive changes even as things stand. Our teams are bruised from the efforts of working through the pandemic, they’ve suffered abuse from the general public and they’ve been disregarded by the government. To insist on more service provision right now is too much to ask.

But perhaps the arrival of COVID-19 marks a plot twist for pharmacy. We can only hope that our efforts in recent months will highlight the versatility and willingness to embrace change of the profession.

Will the pandemic bring us better funding? Will our sector take the lead in community health provision? Will the public finally appreciate pharmacy for what it does? It all feels like a dream beyond the tips of our outstretched fingers. But with a nation in need of healthcare advice and medicines now more than ever, the show must inevitably go on.

Laura Buckley is a locum and PCN pharmacist based in Hull


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