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NI pharmacy chief: ‘We’ve re-established dialogue with politicians at a key time for the sector’

Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) chief Gerard Greene hails the importance of the sector being able to once again connect directly with elected political representatives in the country.  

Recently, the Northern Ireland Assembly’s All-Party Group on Community Pharmacy was re-constituted for the new Assembly term, running from 2022 to 2027. This marked the first step in re-establishing dialogue between elected representatives and the sector ahead of what looks set to be a crucial few years for the health service in Northern Ireland.

With a post-pandemic rebuild now underway, we’re very much focused on where community pharmacy can add value and bring solutions.

"The DoH has signalled its intention to transition away from bottlenecks and waiting lists, towards a more community-centred preventative and accessible healthcare model"

More and more we’re seeing the Department of Health (DoH) signal its intention to transition away from bottlenecks and waiting lists, towards a more community-centred preventative and accessible healthcare model. Undoubtedly, community pharmacy will have a role to play in this journey which the All-Party Group will seek to promote proactively.

Already we have identified where lessons from the pandemic can be applied on a permanent basis. Community pharmacy, for example, was able to demonstrate adaptability, service innovation and flexibility, scaling-up the COVID-19 vaccination programme to administer over 365,000 vaccines to date from locally accessible community pharmacy settings. Just recently, as part of the spring vaccination programme, community pharmacy vaccinated over 83% of patients living in care homes.

The sector also adapted to ensure the continuation of medicines supply to patients, including through the Emergency Supply Service and a medicines delivery service to support vulnerable, shielding and isolating patients. In addition, the development of the ‘Pharmacy First’ service, enables community pharmacy to undertake consultations with patients for a range of everyday health conditions, helpfully displacing patients away from general practice while utilising our pharmacists’ clinical skills.

 

Important forum when others aren’t meeting

 

Established for the first time in February 2021, the All-Party Group has enabled us to discuss solutions-oriented policy while also highlighting the immense contribution of what is a stretched workforce.

Meetings have also served as a helpful forum for the industry to interact with elected representatives on a regular basis and discuss in detail the day-to-day issues impacting community pharmacy and patients.

"The All-Party Group provides an important forum to give regular updates on issues and developments within the sector"

At a time when other Northern Ireland Assembly bodies such as the Health Committee are not meeting, the All-Party Group provides an important forum to give regular updates on issues and developments within the sector.

It has been hugely encouraging to see the group fostering close cross-party collaboration to make progress on important areas, including the role of community pharmacy in reducing winter pressures and in various public health campaigns, cementing its future as a key element of primary and community care.

As we get started on drafting the group’s forward work programme for the weeks and months ahead, it is important that promoting the opportunities and solutions that community pharmacy presents, alongside the provision of the required resources and development of the workforce remain our focus.

The recently agreed commissioning plan provides a roadmap for the evolution of the service over the course of the next three years and it will be important the sector is supported with resources to deliver the plan.

I look forward to continuing working with the All-Party Group to harness the best of community pharmacy, while supporting policymakers in bringing forward evidence-based policy ideas and resources that improve health and social care in Northern Ireland.

 

Gerard Greene is the chief executive of Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI)

 

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