Harry McQuillan

The Next Westminster Government's Role in Transforming Community Pharmacy and Healthcare

The Next Westminster Government's Role in Transforming Community Pharmacy and Healthcare

A view from Numark Chairman, Harry McQuillan

As we gear up for a general election on July 4th, I find myself reflecting on what the next Westminster government could do to make better use of the role of our community pharmacies across England. Often the first point of contact for many patients, pharmacies play a crucial role in our healthcare system, yet their potential is far from fully realised. I have also found through my visits across the four UK countries areas of excellence in each of the community pharmacy contracts and if those were replicated across the entire UK estate, the community pharmacy service offer should be compelling to any government.

I've been thinking about how the next Westminster and the three devolved governments could leverage the power of pharmacies to deliver better healthcare outcomes and alleviate some of the pressures on what is becoming an overburdened NHS system. 

Pharmacists are highly trained professionals who have proven with services such as Pharmacy First in Scotland and England, the Common Ailments Service in Wales and the Minor Ailments Service in Northern Ireland, that they are ready, willing and able to deliver so much more than just supply medicines. Pharmacists and their trained teams are perfectly placed to manage chronic diseases, implement routine monitoring and initiate adjustments to treatment plans, ensuring patients get more consistent care and as a bi-product reduce the burden on GPs.

I’d also like to see a wider expansion of vaccination services as recommended in the recent Health Select Committee report.  This could be especially beneficial in rural areas where access to healthcare providers can be limited. In Scotland it has been shown that by giving pharmacists increased authority to prescribe medicines for common clinical conditions significantly improves access to care and reduces health inequalities.

For all our healthcare systems to function smoothly, we need better integration between pharmacies and the wider primary care multidisciplinary teams. Encouraging collaboration between pharmacists, doctors, and other healthcare providers can only lead to a more coordinated approach to patient care.

A big part of this is ensuring that pharmacists have access to patients' electronic health records.  This would allow for better tracking of medication histories, help reduce errors, and improve continuity of care.   Full end to end integration that facilitates a pharmacist and registered pharmacy technicians being able to access a patient’s full medical history will ultimately improve patient care and allow those professionals to make informed treatment decisions about both acute and chronic conditions at the time of patient presentation.

For pharmacies to take on these expanded roles, they need adequate funding and increased access to resources. It’s crucial that all the governments deliver increased remuneration for the services community pharmacy provide.  Pharmacy owners must have confidence in their income to ensure they continue to invest in their business and deliver the NHS services everyone desires.

Training is another key consideration. Offering grants for additional training programs would help pharmacists and their teams acquire the new skills they need to manage chronic conditions, utilise independent prescribing, and more. And let’s not forget about the importance of investing in the technological infrastructure needed to support digital integration and help drive efficiencies and research into community pharmacy practice.

For these changes to happen, we need the right policies and regulations in place. The next Westminster government should work to streamline reserved legislation that currently limit what pharmacists can and cannot do. This legislative support is key. We need laws that recognise and expand the role of pharmacists within the healthcare system, ensuring they are a central part of our healthcare strategy.

The upcoming general election is a chance to reimagine and revitalise our healthcare system in England and it gives the devolved governments an opportunity to reflect on any implications for them. By expanding the role of pharmacists, enhancing funding and resources, fostering integration and collaboration, and supporting public health initiatives, all governments can transform pharmacies into powerful healthcare facilities at the heart of communities.

These changes won’t just benefit patients; they’ll help create more efficient, accessible, and resilient healthcare systems. This is with the goal of delivering better health outcomes for everyone. Here’s hoping the next Westminster government and our devolved Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish parliaments take note and seize the opportunity to make meaningful reforms that truly leverage the potential of our community pharmacies. Numark is uniquely and ideally placed to help deliver these aspirations for its members through its partnership approach.