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Is helping patients sleep better a trivial pursuit?

After attending the Pharmacy Show this week, Adrian Zacher discusses his preferred way to promote sleep-focused products in community pharmacy

Selling shampoo and toothbrushes is different from providing products that impact someone’s ability to breathe and sleep at the same time.

I went to the Pharmacy Show on Sunday (October 15), and while it was lovely to meet new and familiar faces, I was particularly happy to see several new sleep-focused products targeting the market.

However, I realised that the route the customer or patient is supposed to take to receive these new sleep-focused products is of grave concern to me. Bluntly: Are you a healthcare professional or a shopkeeper?

Read more: Crisis, what crisis? MPs must help tackle sleep disorder problems now

I consider community pharmacy teams to be undervalued healthcare professionals. I do not see them as shopkeepers, merely selling fast-moving consumer goods like baked beans.

So, when I asked one of the vendors who their products were suitable for, you can imagine my dismay when I was answered with a blank look.

I felt that they were attempting and failing to disguise their contemptuous thoughts in response. I could see them wondering if I was stupid for asking the question. Their response was: someone who snores!

Read more: Now is the time for community pharmacy to help patients with sleep disorders

However, I think that it is vital to differentiate between primary snoring with no comorbidities and snoring as a symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea – for treatment to become available, diagnosis is required.

So, while I welcome new sleep companies to community pharmacy, I am worried for pharmacy teams and for the public because as with other drugs, some help one person but might harm another.

For me, there is a right way and a wrong way to make sleep products available in community pharmacy, and help people access appropriate care.

Some of the right ways could include:

  • Weight loss
  • Oral appliance therapy
  • Positive airway pressure therapy
  • Oral surgery
  • ENT surgery
  • Oromaxillofacial surgery

I urge community pharmacy not to trivialise sleep, because it is implicated in every chronic disease and it is considered “essential to health”, according to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Read more: The Sleep Room on the C+D Community

In the meantime, the British Society of Pharmacy Sleep Services (BSPSS) has partnered with C+D to make evidence-based sleep education, where you will find podcasts, online continuing professional development (CPD), with much more to come.

Adrian Zacher is CEO of The BSPSS and a member of the APPG for sleep taskforce

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