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‘Pharmacy staffing levels haven’t kept up with the boom in services’

“Boots’ independent prescribing service could offer patients the ability to bypass lengthy GP queues”

Offering more services in pharmacies is a good idea, but ineffective without an increase in staffing levels and funding to match, says the Multiple Manager

We’ve all been there. You walk out from a rushed medicines use review (MUR), paperwork half done. Facing you is a pharmacy full of impatient patients. You see their faces slowly realise that you are the reason they are still waiting for their box of treats. As you walk round the dispensary counter, the carnage that has unfolded in your absence becomes evident.

A smorgasbord of prescriptions awaits you but just as you reach for a bag, your only fully trained dispenser clears their throat. “Um, Mrs Leakey is here for her urinary tract infection (UTI) appointment.” A quick glance into the crowd and your eyes meet the only smile in the room. Mrs Leakey waves back at you, her half-closed urine sample swishing.

In today’s community pharmacy climate, new services are the reality. In the past few years alone, services have boomed across the country and their growth shows no sign of slowing. However, it’s fair to say that staffing levels have not kept up with that pace.

Patients enjoy walking out through the pharmacy door with something in their hand. A successful trip. Nothing pesters a pharmacist more than watching someone leave their store empty handed, with a condition they can diagnose and treat but without the tools or legal framework to act upon.

And patients waiting for new, flashy services expect the standard of service to rival a private clinic elsewhere, while old regulars still expect their medication to be dispensed within the usual time. Providing services while dispensing medicines quickly means the workload is unsustainable at current levels.

Boots has decided to expand its services by increasing its range of private prescription consultations on offer, including for UTIs and contraceptive pill supply. As well as potentially benefitting patients, the move also offers a meatier role to the numerous independent prescribers trained and employed by the company, who up until now hadn't been able to make use of their skills.

Boots’ independent prescribing service could offer patients the ability to bypass lengthy GP queues and take less time out of their busy lives. In a nutshell, that is the assumption Boots is making, that patients will pay £14 to be seen faster than they would be by a GP. Time is money, but will a population who can see a GP for free choose to pay instead?

Lloydspharmacy also believes it has seen a gap in the market by offering health checks to the general public. For a slightly steeper £25, patients can have their blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol checked during a consultation on their general wellbeing and fitness.

However, like Boots’, this service is routinely carried out for free by surgeries across the country. A private service for something you can get for free will always be a hard sell.

A few years ago, I was involved in a doomed attempt to provide NHS health checks to patients on behalf of local surgeries from the comfort of my own consultation room. A laptop that would link directly to the surgery database was promised, where any results could be uploaded instantly and painlessly.

“Wonderful!” I thought, “We've finally made it to the 21st Century!” When that laptop arrived, however, my hopes were dashed. Smoke signals would have been faster. This is a common complaint and inefficient, time-consuming data inputting is a terminal diagnosis for any new service.

Even with all those problems, it still seems to me like a missed opportunity. Poor execution of a good plan led to the cancellation of that service. Again, we’ve all been there before too.

What pharmacy needs is not more private services but properly funded, planned and promoted NHS services that are provided on behalf of struggling surgeries with simple, concise ways to report patient record updates

Savings to the NHS are there to be made, as are the savings of the public’s time. We just need the staff to do it first.

The Multiple Manager works in a Northern Irish branch of a pharmacy chain

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