The 2017 autumn budget is less than a day away and the rumour mills are churning with speculation of what chancellor Philip Hammond will include in this critical announcement.
Tomorrow’s announcement will almost certainly contain new or reformed policy regarding UK healthcare. And so, the question must be asked of what Mr Hammond should do to improve healthcare services. Furthermore, one wonders if he will redress the surprise omission of the role of community pharmacies from the spring budget earlier this year.
When Mr Hammond dusts off the famous red briefcase, it’s vital that he takes decisive action to address the NHS’s current struggles. Central to this must be the modernisation – or rather, digitisation – of the healthcare sector. Significant investments must be made to drag the time-consuming, paper-based systems used by pharmacists into the 21st century.
EPS leads the way
The electronic prescription service (EPS) is a prime example. Launched four years ago, a recent audit by NHS Digital calculated that the NHS had saved £130 million over three years thanks to EPS. However, a recent study by PharmacyOutlet.co.uk uncovered that 60% of UK adults had not actually heard of EPS, demonstrating the need for greater awareness around these schemes.
Investment must be made into new technologies and processes. EPS has illustrated the financial benefits of digitisation. But it also proves that more education is required around such initiatives. In the budget, Mr Hammond should take the chance to invest in developing new digital practices, while simultaneously ensuring they have as great an impact as possible.
The NHS is faltering
Even the casual observer will be aware that changes must be introduced to alter the way healthcare is provided across the UK. The current model is faltering, as is reflected in a steady stream of news about the country’s healthcare crisis: in the past month the Health Foundation predicted that this winter the number of A&E patients seen within the target four-hour window could fall to its lowest level (87%) since records began in 2004. The findings come alongside fears that hundreds of pharmacies could be closed in the years ahead. It would make a great deal of sense for Mr Hammond to put his weight behind pharmacies playing a greater part on the frontline of UK healthcare.
This week’s speech provides a chance for Mr Hammond to reverse his decision to overlook pharmacy in the spring budget. Ultimately, medical professionals within pharmacies are ideally placed to offer advice and treatment to people suffering from minor or common illnesses. In doing so, pharmacies can keep patients out of GP surgeries and A&E departments, saving the NHS money without sacrificing patient care.
By investing in digitisation and giving pharmacies a more important role to play as gatekeepers for public healthcare, Mr Hammond and the Conservative government can build a model that delivers a superior level of care while significantly improving efficiency.
Hitesh Dodhia is the superintendent pharmacist of online pharmacy PharmacyOutlet.co.uk