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Nice: Perception of pharmacists as dispensers is barrier to potential

The perception of community pharmacists as “mainly responsible for dispensing” is a barrier to the profession expanding its role, Nice has warned.

Community pharmacists could “play a greater role in health promotion, prevention and recognition of ill health”, the National Institute for health and Care Excellence (Nice) said in a draft quality standard on the sector published last week (January 17).

However, the “lack of awareness of their skills” among the public and healthcare professionals, combined with the “long-held view” that they are “responsible mainly for dispensing medicines”, presents a barrier to them “fulfilling their full potential”, the organisation said in a one of four ‘quality statements’ contained in the standard.

Nice’s comments unintentionally echoed criticism of pharmacists’ perceived abilities on a controversial segment of ITV’s This Morning programme last week – itself triggered by a suggestion in the Nice standard that pharmacists offer healthy lifestyle advice to customers (see below).

Changing perceptions

Service providers, including community pharmacies, GP practices and primary care networks, could change perceptions locally of the role of pharmacists, through “campaigns and activities that promote the wider role of community pharmacies”, Nice said.

Healthcare practitioners could also promote the services offered by their local community pharmacies and “raise awareness of the skills and knowledge of community pharmacy teams”, it explained.

These initiatives will need to be “tailored to the local populations”, it added, as pharmacists’ roles could be “perceived differently by people from different cultural backgrounds”.

In another recommendation, Nice said community pharmacists should be facilitated to make referrals to other NHS services, “without the need for the GP to be involved unless appropriate”.

Healthier lifestyle advice

Nice also suggested community pharmacists engage with people who regularly visit their pharmacies, using these opportunities to “start a more general conversation about health and wellbeing”.

“Community pharmacy teams can offer support with adopting a healthier lifestyle, including stopping smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and managing weight,” it said.

Commenting on the draft guidance, Royal Pharmaceutical Society English board chair Professor Claire Anderson said: “Community pharmacists are one of the most trusted and accessible health professionals for the public.

“There is strong evidence for their role in helping people to stop smoking and they are well-equipped to advise about alcohol use and weight management.”

The draft quality standard is open for consultation until February 14, with the final version expected to be published in June.

What do you make of the Nice draft quality standard?

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