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Health secretary pledges pharmacy investment – and Amazon partnership

The government will invest in community pharmacies, and partner with Amazon to make NHS healthcare information available on Alexa devices, the new health secretary has said.

Matt Hancock made the pledges today (July 20), in his first speech as health secretary – having replaced Jeremy Hunt earlier this month.

Mr Hancock promised “to make the most of the extra £20 billion taxpayers are rightly investing in our health service” by investing “in primary care and community pharmacies so people don’t need to go to hospital”.

The government told C+D in June it did not know whether community pharmacy would receive a share of NHS England's funding, which is set to increase by £20.5bn over the next five years. 

Mr Hancock did not specify details on how the fund would be invested in community pharmacy, but he did call for “more training to those pharmacists based in GP surgeries and more staff to support them”, as part of his goal of giving GPs “more assistance to tackle their substantial workloads”.

Amazon to advise patients

The health secretary also announced plans to partner with the internet giant Amazon – who announced a deal to acquire a US online pharmacy last month – to provide “expert” health advice, via its voice-activated device, Alexa.

“We are working with Amazon so the NHS Choices health information that millions use each day can be tailored for voice-activated devices,” he said.

“Currently, if you ask Alexa what to do about your back pain – you don’t know where the answer will be sourced from. We will change this so questions of this sort will mean you receive the expert information prepared by the NHS.”

RPS “heartened” by announcement

Commenting on Mr Hancock’s speech, Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) English pharmacy board chair Sandra Gidley told C+D “not everybody has or likes Alexa”.

“It sounds a bit gimmicky” as Alexa “doesn’t even get the weather right”, she told C+D. However, she would be keen for more details on how it will work in practice, she added.

The RPS has been “pleasantly surprised” by “a number of things” in Mr Hancock’s speech. “I’ve not ever heard [a] health secretary mention pharmacy in [their] initial big speech – I thought that was quite heartening. It does sound as though he’s receptive to ideas,” Ms Gidley said.

Pharmacists’ NHS role in prevention

Ms Gidley said she is also “glad” that Mr Hancock mentioned prevention as one of his three key priorities – alongside workforce and technology – as the RPS would like community pharmacists to be paid for long-term condition management, she said.

“I’m hoping we get to talk to him. We wrote to him to congratulate him on his appointment, and we sent him a copy of the letter we sent to Jeremy Hunt” regarding the £20bn boost to NHS England funding, she added.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said it was “pleased to hear [Mr Hancock] acknowledging the need for investment in community pharmacies so that they can do more to help ease pressure on hospitals”.

“We look forward to working with the government to make this shared vision a reality for the benefit of patients and the NHS,” it added.

Read C+D’s feature on whether Amazon moving into online medicines delivery could spell the end for community pharmacy.


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