Public awareness should be raised about community pharmacy teams being “highly skilled, knowledgeable and easily accessible professionals providing important health and wellbeing services”, according to the National Institute for health and Care Excellence (Nice).
NHS England, clinical commissioning groups and local authorities should work towards this goal, it said in a new quality standard on the sector published last week (August 28).
Community pharmacies should also work with other service providers to “raise the profile of teams and inspire confidence in [them] as a valuable resource for health and wellbeing support”, according to the guidance.
Recognising the role of community pharmacies and their skills “should improve confidence” in the services they provide and “help to overcome barriers to taking full advantage of this valuable resource”, the organisation said in one of four ‘quality statements’ contained in the standard.
In a draft version of the guidance published earlier this year (January 17), Nice said the “lack of awareness of their [pharmacy teams’] skills” among the public and healthcare professionals, combined with the “long-held view” that they are “responsible mainly for dispensing medicines”, presents a barrier to them “fulfilling their full potential”.
In the guidance last week, Nice also highlighted that – being at the heart of the community – pharmacies have “a good understanding of [patients'] needs and challenges”.
“This knowledge and expertise within community pharmacies can inform commissioning of health and wellbeing interventions that are most relevant to the local population and will have the biggest impact on health inequalities,” it said.
The community pharmacy sector also has the ability to “play a greater role” than it currently does in prevention, the early detection of health issues, the management of minor illness and in “health promotion”, Nice added.
Commissioners should work with service providers to understand which health needs should be prioritised in a locality, for example by surveying community pharmacy teams on the services they provide, it said.
The Nice guidance recognises community pharmacies as “local healthcare hubs that could and should work in partnership with GP surgeries to provide integrated healthcare with triage from one to the other”, Steve Anderson, group managing director of Rowlands Pharmacy’s parent company Phoenix UK, said in a statement last week (August 28).
However, the sector's potential to "spearhead improved healthcare outcomes” can only become a reality if it receives “political commitment and financial investment”, he added.
“The frontline role that community pharmacy played during the height of the COVID-19 crisis demonstrated how important the network is to safeguarding the health of our nation,” Mr Anderson said.