An overwhelming majority (89%) of respondents to the NPA survey said community pharmacies have been “very essential” or “fairly essential” in offering health support to local communities during the pandemic.
Almost as many (81%) said they have a “favourable” view of pharmacists, up 15% on the last "comparable" NPA survey on public opinion in 2016.
The survey, published yesterday, (July 9) also found that almost a fourth (22%) said their perception of pharmacies has improved during the pandemic. Reasons given for this included that pharmacy teams have offered a “good patient service,” “gone above and beyond,” “adapted well to coronavirus,” and provided “competent collection/delivery of prescriptions”.
Nearly all (92%) who took part in the survey– which ran June 5-8 and received responses from around 1,000 members of the public – said the NHS should consider pharmacists “high or medium priority for receiving personal protective equipment”.
Just over three quarters (77%) said it was “very important” or “fairly important” to be able to have face-to-face-contact with a pharmacist.
In a blog for C+D today (July 10), NPA chair Andrew Lane said this is “a reminder that the human touch matters in healthcare”.
Commenting on the findings yesterday, Mr Lane said: “This research shows not only the huge public support for pharmacists to play a greater role in the future of the NHS but also a strong attachment to neighbourhood services and the human touch in healthcare.”
“Bigger role” for pharmacies
The public is also in favour of a greater use of pharmacies and the abilities of their teams, with 73% suggesting pharmacies should offer more services to “alleviate pressure from other parts of the health service” and 84% agreeing that the NHS should collaborate with the government to “make greater use of pharmacists’ skills”.
In his blog for C+D today, Mr Lane said the “strength of public opinion in favour of pharmacies is very encouraging”.
Almost three quarters (74%) said pharmacies need to be “better integrated with other services, operating as neighbourhood health and wellbeing centres and providing face-to-face advice”.
Former health minister Jackie Doyle-Price MP said the number and location of community pharmacies “means they could play a much bigger role in tackling the NHS backlog, taking pressure off doctors and hospitals, and supporting public health.”
However, just 29% of respondents said they were “definitely aware” that pharmacists are part of the NHS, “leaving significant scope for improvement,” the NPA said.
Just 11% said they were in favour of “mass automation”, centralised dispensing and pharmacists working for the most part remotely or from GP practices.
Government COVID-19 loan
The public also supported the idea that the money the government has advanced to English pharmacies to alleviate cashflow pressures during COVID-19 – which at the time of the NPA survey amounted to £350 million – should be given to pharmacies as a grant, with 54% holding this position.
A further £20m was paid to English pharmacies as “advance funding” at the beginning of July.
“The £370m COVID crisis loans to pharmacists must be turned into a grant before it is too late. I call on the government to end the confusion around the loans and act now to save our pharmacies,” Mr Lane said.