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NHSE: Pharmacies can help with more services, but sector is ‘fragile’

NHS England (NHSE) must consider how to shore up community pharmacies if it is to ask them to deliver more primary care services, an NHSE director has said.

Speaking at yesterday’s NHSE board meeting, director of primary and community care Amanda Doyle said that in recent years – and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic – pharmacies have taken on an increasing number of clinical services.

On top of offering thousands of consultations for minor illness every year, community pharmacy teams have more recently started offering a blood pressure checking service, a Discharge Medicines Service, and a contraception management service, Dr Doyle pointed out.

Community pharmacies are a “large source of...clinical resource in this country” that have not been “completely tapped” into, she said.

But while community pharmacy’s service offer does free up capacity in GP practices, which “we need to continue to expand”, Dr Doyle cautioned that the sector is “fragile”.

Read more: Sector in crisis: Thousands of pharmacies at risk of closure as inflation bites

“We made cost reductions to the community pharmacy sector of about 8% between 2016 and 2018 and a full 10% efficiency on the sector in the years since,” Dr Doyle said.

“It stands to reason that if we want them to really step up to enable us to widen the part they take in delivering primary care services, then we do need to consider how we keep that sector sustainable,” she reasoned.

Dr Doyle’s comments come just a few of weeks after the publication of the outcome of the negotiations for year 4 and 5 of England’s community pharmacy funding deal, which some pharmacy bodies lambasted as “hugely disappointing” and “devastating”.


Pharmacies’ reach in COVID-19 vaccination programme


NHSE director of vaccinations Steve Russell also gave an update to the board yesterday on the progress of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

He acknowledged that some communities from different ethnic backgrounds or those living in deprived areas “have not had as much confidence in public institutions and have not necessarily been as well served by us”, which translates into lower vaccine uptake levels.

NHSE has worked with communities “to try and understand how we best tailor the offer”, Mr Russell added.

“That is all about local leadership, local community presence. Community pharmacy is really important in communities like these,” he said.

Mr Russell added: “Community pharmacy is one of the only settings of care that beats the inverse care law” – a concept first defined by GP Julian Tudor Hart 50 years ago that describes how people most in need of healthcare assistance are the least likely to receive it.

“Continuing to do local, culturally competent communications is a really important part,” Mr Russell added.

As of October 5, 1,681 community pharmacy-led sites are offering COVID-19 vaccinations, according to NHSE data.


Over 100,000 CPCS consultations in June


NHSE revealed that pharmacies had carried out more than 100,000 consultations in just one month for minor illnesses – such as sore throat or constipation – or for patients needing medicines urgently.

In June, 118,123 people were offered a same-day consultation under the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS). This compares to 64,512 in the same month last year, representing a 83% increase.

NHSE chief executive Amanda Pritchard said these figures mean “patients are getting the care they need quickly but also in a convenient way that can fit in with their busy lives”. 

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