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PSNC blasts ‘irresponsible’ NHSE pharmacy minor ailments campaign

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has branded an NHS England (NHSE) minor ailments advertising campaign “irresponsible” and “extremely unhelpful”.

NHSE launched the “help us help you” campaign today (February 27) to encourage more people to make pharmacies their first port of call for non-urgent advice for minor ailments.

It comes after an NHS-commissioned study conducted earlier this month found that just one in five out of 2,000 respondents aged 18 to 40 would visit their local pharmacy for minor illnesses such as coughs, colds, aches and cystitis, it said.

The “movie-inspired” adverts will be rolled out across catch-up TV, online video, radio and social media and will dramatise minor illnesses such as earache, sore throat and itchy eyes, it added.

They aim to remind people that their pharmacy is there for them for minor health issues and highlight “the vital clinical advice, support and over-the-counter medicines that local pharmacists can offer to help ‘nip issues in the bud’ before they potentially worsen”, NHSE said.


“Particularly irritating”


But PSNC chief executive Janet Morrison said that while community pharmacies “are the obvious first port of call for healthcare advice”, any campaign directing people to pharmacies must take into account “the pressures they are under”.

“It is always deeply concerning to see campaigns directing people to pharmacies without any regard for the pressures they are under - it is irresponsible and extremely unhelpful,” she said.

Read more: Quarter of pharmacy workers suffered depression due to work over past year

Ms Morrison added that NHSE’s new campaign is “particularly irritating just weeks after we rejected a series of proposals from NHS England and DHSC on relief measures to ease pressure on pharmacies as being totally inadequate”.

“NHS England board members have noted the pressure on pharmacies – so why are their teams so often acting to make these pressures worse?” she asked.

Read more: PSNC rejects ‘totally inadequate’ proposals to relieve sector pressures

A national Pharmacy First service “makes so much sense”, but this “must be fully funded”, she added.

“Community pharmacies are at breaking point and cannot continue to operate without a significant injection of extra funds”, she said.

PSNC is “making this point to the government and the NHS on a daily basis”, she added, saying there needs to be a “radical change in how NHS England treats pharmacies”.


“Very disappointing”


Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), said the launch of the campaign was “very disappointing” without the government “providing the already cash-starved overworked pharmacies with sufficient notice of this or any financial support”.

Meanwhile, Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) chief executive Malcolm Harrison said that “the NHS policy of asking patients to visit their local pharmacy does not address the problem of delays to access in primary care”.

Read more: CCA: At least 720 English pharmacies permanently closed since 2015

Instead, it “simply moves it from one pressurised location to another”, he added.

“The NHS must address the chronic underfunding of primary care, and of pharmacy in particular, if patients are to be able to access the care they need and should rightly expect,” Mr Harrison said.

Read more: A fifth of employee pharmacists report ‘dangerous’ levels of understaffing

However, there “is now a very real risk that when patients visit a pharmacy, they will be faced by exhausted teams and longer than expected waiting times”, he added.

This is thanks to a “30% cut in real term funding, the NHS recruiting their pharmacists and technicians to work in general practice and…the continuing increase in the number of medicines prescribed”, he said.


NHSE: Pharmacies already funded to deliver this


An NHSE spokesperson stressed that the new campaign does not promote any additional responsibilities for pharmacies beyond services they have already received funding to deliver.

“The latest ‘Help Us Help You’ pharmacy campaign is running to ensure patients can get the best care that meets their health needs”, they told C+D.

It “highlights existing advice on how people can visit their local pharmacy when appropriate for help with a minor illness”, they added.

Read more: Eight in 10 employee pharmacists considered quitting in 2022

England’s chief pharmaceutical officer David Webb said that “community pharmacies are right in the heart of local communities and with pharmacists fully trained clinically, they are the perfect place for anybody suffering from a minor illness to get expert advice”.

He added that “pharmacies can offer the convenience of turn-up-on-the-day consultations” and can help [patients] get any care needed including over-the-counter-medicines”.

It comes as recent study found high levels of public satisfaction with local pharmacies, with around nine in 10 people reporting they received good advice as well as feeling treated with respect.

And the latest criticism comes a month after pharmacy leaders, including AIMp, the CCA and PSNC wrote to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urging him to invest in the sector.

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