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Calls to let pharmacists refer patients to other health professionals

Pharmacists should be allowed to update medical records, the healthcare organisations argued

Pharmacists should be able to refer patients directly to other health professionals, boosting their role as “a first port of call for healthcare advice”, health bodies have said.

Community pharmacists should be enabled by NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) to refer patients straight to other healthcare professionals “where self care is not appropriate”, pharmacy bodies have argued this week.

The proposal was put forward by the signatories to a clinical consensus statement on self-care – which included the National Pharmacy Association, the Company Chemists Association (CCA) and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee – published earlier this week (October 6).

The seven organisations who signed the statement also said NHSE&I should “accelerate efforts” to allow pharmacists to update medical records and “give them full integration and interoperability of IT systems as part of local health and care records partnerships”.

The consensus signatories additionally called on the government to urgently produce a national self-care strategy to help reduce health inequalities and demand on the NHS and said NHSE&I should look at introducing “self-care recommendation prescriptions” as part of the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service.

This would allow GPs and other healthcare professionals to "appropriately refer patients to self-care”, the organisations wrote.

The consensus was also signed by NHS Clinical Commissioners, the consumer healthcare association the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), the Self Care Forum and the Royal College of Nursing.

Self-care and COVID-19

Self-care has played a crucial role during COVID-19, as many patients with self-treatable symptoms have not been able to visit a GP as normal, the healthcare bodies said.

Earlier this year, a PAGB survey showed that 69% of respondents “who might not have considered self-care as their first option before the pandemic… were more likely to do so in future”.

During COVID-19, individuals learned or practised self-care behaviours, something that should be encouraged “through the pandemic era and beyond” to help the NHS better manage demand, according to the clinical consensus.

In order to achieve this “wholesale cultural shift” to self-care, healthcare professionals should receive training on this subject, both as part of their curricula and via CPD. Self-care should also be part of the national curriculum for primary and secondary school pupils, the healthcare organisations suggested.

Commenting on the consensus, CCA CEO Malcolm Harrison said: “Today, more than ever before, we are seeing the importance of self-care, in which community pharmacy plays a vital role, ensuring that people have the right information and support to manage their healthcare needs”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told C+D yesterday (October 7) that pharmacies are “taking on a growing clinical role and becoming the first port of call for minor illness and health advice”.

There are more than 9,500 Healthy Living Pharmacies in England, working to promote health and wellbeing and reduce health inequalities.

Do you think the UK needs a national self-care strategy?

Freelance Chemist, Pre-reg Pharmacist

It should be limited to the RP only. 

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

The real question is why cant we? what are the barriers - generally CCG intransigence.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I absolutely agree with the ability of pharmacists and technicians to make referrals. Pretty much every other healthcare and social care provider has this tool available to them, and pharmacists and technicians should be no different.

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

Should there be a national self-care strategy? Yes

Should pharmacists be able to refer (as opposed to signpost) patients direct to other health professionals - again, in light of GPs bringing down the shutters during the pandemic - a resounding YES!

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