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NPA survey: 89% of public saw pharmacy as ‘essential’ during pandemic

Nearly nine in 10 people believe community pharmacies are playing a crucial role during the COVID-19 pandemic, a National Pharmacy Association (NPA) survey has revealed.

An overwhelming majority (89%) of respondents to the NPA survey said community pharmacies have been “very essential” or “fairly essential” in offering health support to local communities during the pandemic.

Almost as many (81%) said they have a “favourable” view of pharmacists, up 15% on the last "comparable" NPA survey on public opinion in 2016. 

The survey, published yesterday, (July 9) also found that almost a fourth (22%) said their perception of pharmacies has improved during the pandemic. Reasons given for this included that pharmacy teams have offered a “good patient service,” “gone above and beyond,” “adapted well to coronavirus,” and provided “competent collection/delivery of prescriptions”.

Nearly all (92%) who took part in the survey– which ran June 5-8 and received responses from around 1,000 members of the public – said the NHS should consider pharmacists “high or medium priority for receiving personal protective equipment”.

Just over three quarters (77%) said it was “very important” or “fairly important” to be able to have face-to-face-contact with a pharmacist.

In a blog for C+D today (July 10), NPA chair Andrew Lane said this is “a reminder that the human touch matters in healthcare”.

Commenting on the findings yesterday, Mr Lane said: “This research shows not only the huge public support for pharmacists to play a greater role in the future of the NHS but also a strong attachment to neighbourhood services and the human touch in healthcare.”

“Bigger role” for pharmacies

The public is also in favour of a greater use of pharmacies and the abilities of their teams, with 73% suggesting pharmacies should offer more services to “alleviate pressure from other parts of the health service” and 84% agreeing that the NHS should collaborate with the government to “make greater use of pharmacists’ skills”.

In his blog for C+D today, Mr Lane said the “strength of public opinion in favour of pharmacies is very encouraging”.

Almost three quarters (74%) said pharmacies need to be “better integrated with other services, operating as neighbourhood health and wellbeing centres and providing face-to-face advice”.

Former health minister Jackie Doyle-Price MP said the number and location of community pharmacies “means they could play a much bigger role in tackling the NHS backlog, taking pressure off doctors and hospitals, and supporting public health.”

However, just 29% of respondents said they were “definitely aware” that pharmacists are part of the NHS, “leaving significant scope for improvement,” the NPA said.

Just 11% said they were in favour of “mass automation”, centralised dispensing and pharmacists working for the most part remotely or from GP practices.

Government COVID-19 loan

The public also supported the idea that the money the government has advanced to English pharmacies to alleviate cashflow pressures during COVID-19 – which at the time of the NPA survey amounted to £350 million – should be given to pharmacies as a grant, with 54% holding this position.

A further £20m was paid to English pharmacies as “advance funding” at the beginning of July.

“The £370m COVID crisis loans to pharmacists must be turned into a grant before it is too late. I call on the government to end the confusion around the loans and act now to save our pharmacies,” Mr Lane said.

How do you feel about the findings of this NPA survey?

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