It’s good to see COVID-19 restrictions easing, but the grim reality is it will take years for the NHS to catch up on the backlog of postponed procedures and appointments. We also have the additional pressures of flu season on the horizon, which could put the health service into crisis mode.
Over the last few months, community pharmacy has proven its value as the “third pillar” of healthcare in delivering NHS services alongside GPs and hospitals. When access to the latter was understandably restricted, community pharmacies kept their doors open, providing not only medication, but also trusted professional healthcare support and advice.
When the government looks at the immense healthcare challenges that lie ahead, it must recognise there can be no return to ‘as was’. Instead, it must seize the opportunity to reset how care is planned, commissioned and delivered.
Surely, one of the lessons we can learn from the COVID-19 crisis is that our country needs the community pharmacy network as a critical local healthcare access point. The network needs to be financially viable – currently it is not in England. Who thinks pharmacy closures are a good idea post-COVID? Is the community pharmacy contractual framework (CPCF) in England still fit for purpose?
However, if we expect the government to play its part in supporting the new normal for our sector by commissioning more services and providing sustainable funding, then we too need to be bold and progressive in our thinking.
If the sector wants to encourage the public to think “pharmacy first” when it comes to treating minor ailments, seeking wellbeing advice such as smoking cessation or even COVID-19 antibody tests then we have to change the way we work to deliver an expanded range of services.
We should therefore embrace and promote new regulations about pharmacy supervision that don’t dilute professional due diligence, but are appropriate for the new realities of delivering high-quality patient care.
Given the circumstances, we also need to adopt more efficient dispensing practices such as hub-and-spoke to create the time to provide patient services. In addition, we need to see more GPs refer patients to pharmacies when it is clinically appropriate to do so, but we also then need the capacity to respond to those referrals.
The new normal is a unique opportunity to improve patient access to healthcare with community pharmacy at the forefront of illness prevention, chronic condition management, testing, triage and wellbeing support.
The healthcare challenges that our nation is facing are daunting. Community pharmacy has a critical role to play in meeting those challenges, but we need to adapt our ways of working to reflect the new realities we face in delivering the best possible care for patients.
Margaret MacRury is superintendent pharmacist at Rowlands.