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Sector calls for key role in government's obesity strategy

DH: Details on plans to help the nation manage its weight will be released later in the year
DH: Details on plans to help the nation manage its weight will be released later in the year

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has urged the government to make pharmacy central to its new strategy for tackling obesity.

Pharmacy “should be at the centre of any plan to the prevention agenda”, RPS English pharmacy board chair Professor Claire Anderson said yesterday, (July 27) commenting on the launch of the government’s obesity strategy.

Pharmacy teams could support “weight management and [help reduce] the risk of serious illness such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes”, she added.

Supporting people with “general wellbeing issues, such as obesity”, would allow pharmacies to ease pressures on other parts of the NHS, Professor Anderson said.

“We now need the backing from the government and NHS to build on the work our profession continues to do on a daily basis,” she added.

RPS president Sandra Gidley said in a tweet yesterday that the government “will have missed a trick” if pharmacy is not included in the solution to obesity.

The words “pharmacy” and “pharmacists” did not appear in the government’s obesity strategy.

However, the DH told C+D today (July 28) that it is conscious of the importance of the role of community pharmacy in helping the population become healthier. Further details on the government’s plans for helping the nation manage its weight would be released later in the year, it added.  

COVID-19 risks

Alongside the launch of its obesity strategy yesterday, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) also launched a Better Health campaign to encourage those who are overweight or obese to move to a healthier weight with the support of free apps and other tools.

The campaign aims to ensure that people look after their physical health and "reduce their risk of serious illness, including COVID-19”.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity”, the DH said.

Data has shown that obese people are “significantly more likely to become seriously ill and be admitted to intensive care with COVID-19 compared to those with a healthy BMI”, the DH said.

In an update published yesterday, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said that “Public Health England (PHE) is calling on community pharmacy teams to help support this campaign, recognising their unique ability to reach more vulnerable groups and to tie in public health messaging with their own services”.

The different “national pharmacy bodies were briefed on the campaign, which is where that message was conveyed” by PHE, the PSNC told C+D today.

Community pharmacies already play an important role in “reducing health inequalities, supporting those groups at high risk of COVID-19” in the community, Professor Anderson said.

“The pandemic has emphasised that collaborative working across healthcare will be essential for the success of this strategy,” she added.

“Community pharmacy is part of the solution”

Last week (July 22), Lloydspharmacy launched a private weight loss service to help reduce rising obesity levels in the UK.

Commenting on the launch of the obesity strategy yesterday, Anna Ruthven, head of services at – Lloydspharmacy’s parent company McKesson UK, – told C+D that it hopes the government will “recognise that community pharmacy is also part of the solution to tackling this national epidemic”.

“People need to be able to access the advice, treatment and support they need in different healthcare settings and healthcare professionals need to work together to help the communities that we all serve,” she said.

Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies CEO Leyla Hannbeck told C+D yesterday that pharmacy teams could have “a great role to play within the obesity strategy”.

“The vast majority of community pharmacies are healthy living pharmacies”, helping their communities “by initiating dialogues and debates that have led to changes in patient behaviours”, she said.

“A national programme to change habitual routines, including [when it comes to] obesity, would therefore sit very well with community pharmacy,” Ms Hannbeck added.

Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) chief executive Malcolm Harrison told C+D today that “community pharmacy teams have a vital role to play in supporting the patients and customers they serve by providing advice on diet and healthy living”.

While “the government’s obesity strategy does not explicitly mention pharmacists, there could be an opportunity for pharmacists to be trained as healthy weight coaches”, he said. The CCA looks forward to “gaining greater clarity” about “the role pharmacists in community can play in delivering” the government’s new obesity strategy, Mr Harrison added.

What to you make of the obesity strategy?

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

The part we will play has already been published - there is a "toolkit" available for us to use to promote healthy lifestyles... that, I suspect, will be it!


The unfortunate thing is that a lot of a pharmacy's income comes from people being unhealthy and requiring multiple prescription items or OTC remedies. A bit like during an MUR when you try and optimise someone's medcation it often means deprescribing. Why would you want people to be deprescribed something? I'm speaking from a purely business point of view here, as a healthcare professional I'd love to see people healthier and taking the minimal amount of medication.

There is no obvious financial incentive for a retail pharmacy to participate in these schemes, other than to provide minimal evidence for the NHS terms of service or HLP accreditation for PQS. Whilst prescription volume is king, these other schemes will be a sideline thought for most pharmacies.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

It IS ridiculous when you think about it. We are constantly working our socks off with the aim of putting ourselves out of work! Never mind. Our own government is planning to do that for us.......

I think your point about prescription volume is king only applies to independents though. In multiples, services are definitely front and centre because they are extra income with no extra outlay and the poor pharmacist cops the pressure from area managers on a daily basis.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

You would think that pharmacy, with it's open door policy and accessibility to healthcare advice, would automatically be the starting point for this campaign. The fact that it is not, in spite of the fact that the pharmacist is the healthcare professional people come into contact with most often, shows the regard we are held in by the powers that be.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I would respectfully say that considering the size of most consultation rooms, they can barely contain myself. I'm not so worried about being close to other people, but it is not very conducive to an attractive service for customers.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

I do have one big concern - how do you start the conversation? You can't begin with 'Hello Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms/Unspecified Smith - you're looking particularly lardy today. But WE CAN HELP!!!'

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

"The words 'pharmacy' and 'pharmacist' did not appear in the governments strategy". I expect that "payment", "fee", "remuneration" were also notable by their absence.

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