‘Bridging the gap’: Community pharmacy’s role in women’s health
What part are community pharmacists already playing in advising women on their health, and is there a bigger role they could play?
Late last month, the government published its first ever women’s health strategy for England.
It’s a move that at last recognises that NHS services are not currently designed to meet women’s day-to-day needs. It pledges to boost the health outcomes of women and girls over the next 10 years, to take a life course approach, to focus on women’s health policy throughout their lives, and to boost a representation of women’s voices in policymaking.
The National Pharmacy Association has welcomed the strategy. "As public health practitioners and clinicians on the high street, community pharmacists have skills and expertise to address the widening inequalities that restrict women from consistent, holistic care,” it says.
Indeed, community pharmacists argue that they have been “bridging the gap” for women’s health for some time, providing advice and help, offering a listening ear, and giving information on issues such as contraception and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) products.
HRT shortages driving women to pharmacies
Kiran Jones, pharmacist at Oxford Online Pharmacy, part of the Frost Pharmacy Group, tells C+D that recent HRT shortages and the difficulty some patients are facing in securing a GP appointment have meant that an increasing number of women are visiting their pharmacy for advice.
But she stresses that pharmacists and GPs both have important roles to play in improving healthcare for women.
“We all have knowledge, strengths and weaknesses and it’s up to whole healthcare teams, including GPs and pharmacists, to work together to ultimately support the patient,” she says.
“Pharmacists and our teams are well placed to support ongoing conversations that start during a GP appointment. There is only so much that can be discussed in 10 minutes.”
She adds: “It’s also important that we know when to refer a woman to her GP. For example, we don’t diagnose menopause or initiate HRT, that is generally not our skillset.
“In my experience, a lot of the value we provide comes from answering questions regarding the ongoing management of menopausal symptoms - finding the right form (tablet, patch, gel, etc) of HRT to suit a patient’s lifestyle, answering queries about side effects or advising on latest treatment guidance.”
Emergency contraception and the pill
Nahim Khan is community pharmacist in Warrington who works closely with local GPs.
In his experience of talking to women about their HRT, “side effects and adverse drug reactions don’t really get discussed enough.”
He tells C+D: “One thing where a pharmacist will be helpful is in discussing the side effects and benefits of taking a medication and that’s somewhere where GPs and pharmacists can work together to support women.”
For him, it’s a plus that more women are calling on their pharmacist for advice on HRT if they can’t secure a GP appointment because it means they are likely to be armed with “quite a bit of information” once they do manage to see their doctor. “That’s quite a good use of time for them,” he says.
But HRT is not the only area of women’s health where pharmacists can make their mark, he points out.
Recently, he has seen an uptick in queries from women going on holiday who are asking for norethisterone, a drug to pause a person’s period. Indeed, some pharmacies have a private service where they can dispense this drug for a fee once a consultation has been completed.
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He has also seen “quite a lot of women” seeking emergency contraception, and points out that the progesterone-only pill can now be bought following a consultation with a pharmacist – without the need for a prescription.