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‘The National Insurance rise is a temporary remedy to NHS finances; pharmacy must be involved in the long-term treatment’

The announcement of an increase to National Insurance contributions to fund the NHS following the COVID-19 pandemic may be a thorn in the public’s side, but it also won't solve the healthcare system’s finances, says Leyla Hannbeck

As news of the government’s 1.25% National Insurance increase for all working adults to pay for the reduction in the NHS backlog and social care sinks in, this should be a time to take stock.

The tax hike is being blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic, and while it is true that the pandemic has skewed the finances, they were inadequate and in a mess long before the virus hit. There is an element here of applying an Elastoplast to a wound that requires much further and more concerted treatment.

Yes, the NHS is short of cash, but we ought to be looking at the healthcare system as a whole, not plugging gaps as they occur. In that regard, there is a major resource that is under-utilised, that is available to provide greater services and is accessible to everyone.

Why the government does not fully appreciate the work community pharmacies do and how they’ve got plenty to offer, particularly in the area of prevention, is puzzling.

Used properly – including being given a level playing field on workforce and regulatory matters – we could take a tonne of pressure off the rest of the health service, away from GPs and hospital A&E departments. Indeed, throughout the pandemic, we proved our mettle, the health professionals on the high street who did not close their doors and hide behind Zoom calls.

Where social care is concerned, we also have a significant contribution to make. As highly qualified, expert frontline healthcare practitioners situated on pretty much every high street in the land, open long hours – no appointment needed – we are in a key position to supply advice and instructions.

What often determines how we spend our latter years is how we spend our lives up to that point. Obesity, for instance, does not usually make for a happy, healthy old age. Pharmacies are able to assist in preventing obesity. This is just one example where we can be better deployed – there are many more.

We know our patients. Likewise, they know us, and they trust us. We’re an integral part of their community. We can help them take greater responsibility for their own lives, for their own health. In short, we can give them the instruction and encouragement they require so that they do not lean so heavily on the rest of the NHS.

As the reality of having to pay increased taxes dawns, we should also be ensuring that we have the most efficient, cost-effective health system possible, and that means drawing on our community pharmacies – invest in our sector and our workforce.

Leyla Hannbeck is chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp)

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