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Health secretary pledges pharmacy investment – and Amazon partnership

Matt Hancock: Amazon Alexa will soon provide tailored NHS Choices health information
Matt Hancock: Amazon Alexa will soon provide tailored NHS Choices health information

The government will invest in community pharmacies, and partner with Amazon to make NHS healthcare information available on Alexa devices, the new health secretary has said.

Matt Hancock made the pledges today (July 20), in his first speech as health secretary – having replaced Jeremy Hunt earlier this month.

Mr Hancock promised “to make the most of the extra £20 billion taxpayers are rightly investing in our health service” by investing “in primary care and community pharmacies so people don’t need to go to hospital”.

The government told C+D in June it did not know whether community pharmacy would receive a share of NHS England's funding, which is set to increase by £20.5bn over the next five years. 

Mr Hancock did not specify details on how the fund would be invested in community pharmacy, but he did call for “more training to those pharmacists based in GP surgeries and more staff to support them”, as part of his goal of giving GPs “more assistance to tackle their substantial workloads”.

Amazon to advise patients

The health secretary also announced plans to partner with the internet giant Amazon – who announced a deal to acquire a US online pharmacy last month – to provide “expert” health advice, via its voice-activated device, Alexa.

“We are working with Amazon so the NHS Choices health information that millions use each day can be tailored for voice-activated devices,” he said.

“Currently, if you ask Alexa what to do about your back pain – you don’t know where the answer will be sourced from. We will change this so questions of this sort will mean you receive the expert information prepared by the NHS.”

RPS “heartened” by announcement

Commenting on Mr Hancock’s speech, Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) English pharmacy board chair Sandra Gidley told C+D “not everybody has or likes Alexa”.

“It sounds a bit gimmicky” as Alexa “doesn’t even get the weather right”, she told C+D. However, she would be keen for more details on how it will work in practice, she added.

The RPS has been “pleasantly surprised” by “a number of things” in Mr Hancock’s speech. “I’ve not ever heard [a] health secretary mention pharmacy in [their] initial big speech – I thought that was quite heartening. It does sound as though he’s receptive to ideas,” Ms Gidley said.

Pharmacists’ NHS role in prevention

Ms Gidley said she is also “glad” that Mr Hancock mentioned prevention as one of his three key priorities – alongside workforce and technology – as the RPS would like community pharmacists to be paid for long-term condition management, she said.

“I’m hoping we get to talk to him. We wrote to him to congratulate him on his appointment, and we sent him a copy of the letter we sent to Jeremy Hunt” regarding the £20bn boost to NHS England funding, she added.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said it was “pleased to hear [Mr Hancock] acknowledging the need for investment in community pharmacies so that they can do more to help ease pressure on hospitals”.

“We look forward to working with the government to make this shared vision a reality for the benefit of patients and the NHS,” it added.

Read C+D’s feature on whether Amazon moving into online medicines delivery could spell the end for community pharmacy.


How are you feeling about community pharmacy’s future now Matt Hancock has replaced Jeremy Hunt as health secretary?
Too early to tell
Total votes: 172
What do you make of Mr Hancock's comments on pharmacy?

Tony Schofield, Community pharmacist

Clearly NHSE now sees value in bricks and mortar pharmacies. That is a paradigm shift that must be welcomed. Hopefully the discussion amongst pharmacists will now shift to discussion of how best to keep people out of hospital, collaboration and sharing of best practice and how we take the workforce forward

Dave Downham, Manager

I hope your optimism is not misplaced.

Uma Patel, Community pharmacist

A patient/customer’s first priority is convenience and secondly cost if they are paying. I use Amazon and PayPal because it’s convenient although not always the cheapest option.

The world’s biggest taxi company does not own any taxies (Uber). The world biggest hotelier does not own any hotels ( Airnbnb)

It is not impossible to imagine that the biggest supplier of medicines may not own any pharmacies.

However in the most dynamic and competitive economy (USA) mail order has failed to get traction so far. But with the recent foray by Amazon in USA, I wouldn’t bet against it. Amazon paid estimated a billion dollars for a direct supply pharmacy company and the shares of Walgreens et al fell by 14 billion

Another Pharmacist, Hospital pharmacist

Partner with amazon is a headline and nothing more. Anyone can write code against the Alexa api and submit it as an Alexa skill. Tell Alexa to turn your lights off...tell Alexa you have back pain...she reads from set nhs choices blurb that btw is already COMPLETELY FREE for anyone to syndicate on their own sites. Not that exciting or threatening really!

However, they could pair the latest nhs app with Alexa to order meds, book appointments etc. Not that hard - and if anyone says “ok sunshine you do it”...I’m a millennial pharmacist so of course I can read and write code.

The real problem here is the comments re gp shows how they’re planning things again.

Pharmacy is just supply really - that’s all people care about - my prescription, now! So we all know that remote supervision is acutes dispensed from a gp practice as the pharmacist is oh yeh great at signing repeat rx and saving a few quid on the drugs budget (they’re just a cheap prescriber really) and dispensing the odd amoxicillin for a draw of pre-packs lol and repeats are dispensed centrally from hubs (none of this hub and spoke bull) but centralised right back to the bloody wholesalers even!


Anyway...pairing with Alexa isn’t a back door for amazon to get involved in dispensing. Amazon have no interest in it. And p2u is too damned small (this is Amazon we’re talking about) before anyone says! 


Pity the rps thinks it a gimmick - it’s more forward thinking and patient orientated than anything to come out the rps in 15yrs! 


Consumerisation of healthcare! 

NHS app, Alexa integrations, cutting funding to community pharmacy and promoting centralised dispensing...that’s what DH are promoting.

Peter Sainsburys, Community pharmacist

Yes, 99% of customers only want their meds. The only other service which seems popular is the flu jab, patients certainly do not want MURs, NMS, or any other ill-conceived service thought up by someone who works behind a desk.

If Amazon can provide an efficient service, and do free delivery, they should be able to improve things for most patients.

Peter Sainsburys, Community pharmacist

As a patient I would much prefer to order my meds from Amazon than the local multiples. You can order stuff at midnight on Saturday on Amazon and have it delivered Sunday morning. How many of the multiples can do that? 

Anything that infringes on the extremely unethical behaviour of two large multiples can only be a good thing.

Dave Downham, Manager

Dr Google to the rescue. "Alexa - what are those white tablets with that funny name for? You know, those I take at mealtimes. No, not them, the others. Alexa? Alexa?"

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

Amazon link-up - "thin end of a wedge" comes to mind

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

Government partnering with Amazon - now that's not worrying at all!

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Does it seem like the government's vision of pharmacy is an amalgamation within a surgery? More assistance to GPs is clearly warranted, and I hope Mr Hancock also realises the importance of this within Pharmacy as well!

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