We are witnessing pharmacy like never before

As the dust finally starts to settle on what has been an arduous two years for healthcare providers, the reality is, another journey is now underway as healthcare professionals look to build and take on a new line of defence to help members of the public improve their health.

Community pharmacies have been stalwarts of the pandemic, tirelessly serving communities despite spiralling costs and mounting capacity pressures. Pharmacy has proven to successfully defend itself and is positioned well to navigate the challenges and opportunities that this next public health chapter presents.  

We are witnessing pharmacy like never before.

Community pharmacy have been well recognised for many years as a destination for flu vaccinations.  The ambition from NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) is that community pharmacy should be the lead provider for vaccination services, including and not limited to future COVID vaccination programmes.  We are perfectly placed to deliver and lead on all future booster programmes for the most vulnerable, including those aged 12 plus who are at risk as they are moderately or severely immunocompromised, to driving the vaccination programme for all 5–11-year-olds – pharmacy is the critical third pillar of the NHS at the heart of communities.  

But it’s not just administering vaccines which will form community pharmacy’s own defence against illnesses such as flu, pneumonia and COVID, but pharmacy teams’ readiness for the introduction of Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) across England. There is no doubt integrated community healthcare will benefit patients, but it will only be effective if it includes community pharmacy at the heart of integration strategy and provision. Taking shared responsibility to help manage NHS resources more efficiently and effectively is needed and community pharmacy should be empowered by the opportunity to champion everyday health.

Let us recognise there is more that unites healthcare providers in collective interest than divides them in charting a future pathway for healthcare on the high street. Community pharmacies offer walk-in advice and care on the doorstep of the most vulnerable. They are the most accessible point of contact in communities. Creating an everyday welfare hub for help and guidance on how best to manage patient health will ease demand on primary care providers. Meanwhile, contractual demands to shift funding from dispensing to service provision can only help meet local communities ever-growing health and wellbeing needs.

The sector in England may well be entering uncertain and potentially stormy commissioning waters ahead, but one thing is for sure, community pharmacies know their audience and they are best placed to serve them well. Change, albeit daunting for some, that increases access to improved quality of care will only help safeguard and futureproof community healthcare provision for all.

And relieving overall pressure across local healthcare systems is of common interest to everyone.

We need to see future local healthcare structures that enable community pharmacy to be positive, progressive and effective. We’re looking to equip and support all Numark members with the investment, technology, propositions and support they need to move forward, while continuing to lobby the Government in England, for fairer funding to be able to redefine the role of community pharmacy within all healthcare visions and reforms.

So, as we embark on year 4 of the 5-year pharmacy contract, challenges still prevail but opportunity is ever present for those looking to ready themselves for the years ahead. Pharmacy teams need to make change work hard for them. As a powerful network, we cannot stand still whilst the world around us moves on. Equally, we need to ensure the community pharmacy tried and tested mixed-economy of independents, multiples and national chains can continue and indeed thrive under increasing change. So, let’s see how the next chapter plays out and how community pharmacy can indeed nobly defend its pivotal position within the NHS healthcare system.