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Shaping the future: The evolving role of pharmacy professionals in primary care

The role of pharmacy professionals continues to expand and shape primary care. Adeem Azhar explores what this means for the future of healthcare.

When I first stepped into the world of community pharmacy, it was mostly about prescriptions, patient counselling and compliance. Fast forward to today, and we, as pharmacy professionals in the UK, are playing a pivotal role in shaping primary care. It's a transformation that's both challenging and exhilarating. How did we get here and what does this mean for the future of healthcare?

Let’s dive into the heart of this evolution, exploring the journey from traditional dispensing to dynamic clinical care.


An overview of clinical pharmacy-led models


In the UK, clinical pharmacy-led models are revolutionising primary care. These models integrate pharmacists and pharmacy technicians directly into healthcare teams, moving beyond traditional roles. In practice, this means pharmacists in GP surgeries and primary care networks (PCNs) are actively managing medications, advising on disease management and contributing to patient care plans.

Read more: Part one: My journey from community pharmacist to the director of medicines in a PCN

A prime example is the NHS England's (NHSE) initiative, the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS), which supports these roles to be deployed across primary care. This approach not only enhances patient care but also addresses systemic challenges like clinical workload and access to services.


My personal perspective on the impact


From my experience, these clinical pharmacy-led models have been a game-changer. We're not just dispensing medicines; we're actively involved in disease management, offering personalised medication advice and deprescribing.

Read more: Part two: My journey from community pharmacy to the director of medicines in a PCN

This has led to better chronic disease control and more efficient healthcare delivery. It's incredibly rewarding to see patients benefit from our direct involvement in their care alongside positive patient feedback, proving that pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are valued members of the multi-disciplinary team.


Advice for GP pharmacists


For pharmacists adapting to these models in the UK, my key advice is to embrace the change and invest in continuous learning and familiarise yourself with the latest NHS and local guidelines and policies. Networking with other healthcare professionals is invaluable because it helps you understand the broader context of patient care. Don't shy away from taking on new responsibilities, such as managing chronic diseases or conducting health checks and expanding your scopes of competence.

Remember, your expertise in medication and therapeutics is a crucial asset in multidisciplinary teams. Most importantly, always keep the patient’s needs at the heart of your practice.


Challenges and practical solutions


Adapting to these models in the UK isn’t without its challenges.

Read more: How can pharmacy develop more female leaders?

One major hurdle is resistance to change, both from within the healthcare team and from patients unfamiliar with the expanded role of a pharmacist. To overcome this, clear communication, education and creating specific resources are key.

Another challenge is the initial investment required for training and technology upgrades. Here, strategic planning and seeking funding opportunities, like those offered by the NHS or locally, can be helpful.

Lastly, navigating the evolving regulatory landscape requires staying informed and adaptable, ensuring compliance while advancing patient care.


Future predictions and aspirations


Looking ahead, I envision a future where pharmacy professionals in the UK play a more integral role in primary care and add more value to the wider healthcare economy. GP pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will be key in developing specialised interests which will best serve local communities in empowering them with their health and wellbeing.

Read more: Online pharmacies: Are you being served?

The adoption of digital tools like telehealth and artificial intelligence (AI) will further streamline clinical operations and enhance patient care. I foresee specialised training programs emerging, focusing on areas like digital health, advanced disease management and overall wellness as prevention to diseases will be critical for the sustainability of the NHS.

This evolution will foster greater interdisciplinary collaboration, leading to more comprehensive and personalised patient care. Embracing these changes will not only advance our profession but also significantly improve healthcare delivery in the UK.


Final thoughts


In summary, the evolving role of pharmacy professionals is pivotal in shaping the future of healthcare. From embracing clinical pharmacy-led models, upskilling clinically, to integrating technology in our practices, we're at the forefront of a healthcare revolution.

The journey is challenging, but the rewards such as improved patient outcomes and a more robust healthcare system are immense. As pharmacists, we're not just part of the change; we're driving it, ensuring our profession remains essential and impactful in the years to come.


Adeem Azhar is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Core Prescribing Solutions

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