Harry McQuillan

A Vision for Community Pharmacy - Labour's Commitment to Empowering Pharmacists

Reflecting on the Labour Government’s manifesto pledges in the lead up to the general election and their subsequent landslide victory, I wanted to share some thoughts on a topic that's been front and centre for us all - healthcare reform. With the recent release of Keir Starmer's Labour Party manifesto, there's a particular promise that stands out to me, and it's one that should redefine our role as the first port of call for the management of all things medicines related in the UK.

Labour has laid out a vision for the UK that prioritises economic growth, stability, and, critically, healthcare reform. At the heart of this vision is the creation of a Community Pharmacist Prescribing Service. This initiative seeks to expand the role of pharmacists by granting more independent prescribing rights where clinically appropriate. The concept needs further exploration as the rights are already there through the recent change to undergraduate training that incorporates prescribing. What it does need is a fully costed service that allows the pharmacy profession to deploy those skills easily and safely. What the vision undeniably does is signal a strong commitment to fully utilise our capabilities and integrating community pharmacy more deeply into the healthcare system.

Elevating the Role of Pharmacists

Let's be honest, pharmacists are an underutilised resource within the healthcare system. We possess extensive training and expertise, yet our full potential hasn't always been acknowledged. By harnessing pharmacists expanded prescribing rights, Labour is acknowledging our significant role in patient care. This initiative aims to recognise our skills and enhance patient care, ensuring quicker access to necessary treatments.

Reframing Pharmacy Services - A Patient-Centric Approach

As a healthcare professional deeply invested in the evolution of pharmacy services, I find the current narrative surrounding initiatives like Pharmacy First to be somewhat frustrating and limiting. While it’s true that these services help alleviate the pressure on GP practices, framing them solely as a solution to reduce GP workloads does a disservice to the broader role of community pharmacies. It’s time we challenge this narrow perspective and champion a more comprehensive vision focused on patient access and outcomes.

At the heart of our mission should always be the provision of the most appropriate professional care, tailored to the best interests of our patients. This shift in perspective is crucial for policymakers to understand that pharmacies are not just an ancillary service. Instead, pharmacies are integral to the healthcare system, providing essential services that complement those offered by GPs and hospitals. 

Viewing pharmacies as the "third pillar" of healthcare, alongside primary and secondary care, highlights our critical role in the health system. This perspective underscores that pharmacies are essential to delivering holistic healthcare. 

For policymakers, this reframing is vital. If expanded Independent Prescribing (IP) roles and services like Pharmacy First continue to be seen primarily as tools for reducing GP workload, we risk policies that underfund or underutilise pharmacies. Recognising our full value means ensuring we are adequately supported and integrated into the healthcare system. This includes expanding the range of services we can provide, ensuring we have the resources needed to deliver high-quality care, and essentially, remunerating us appropriately.

I need the Labour Government to recognise this and I will actively seek opportunities to engage with policymakers to leverage the network’s position.

Labour’s manifesto pledge to recognise the role of community pharmacies is a positive step that addresses several critical challenges facing the NHS today. By integrating pharmacists with prescribing rights into a prevention-focused healthcare model, and leveraging digital tools, Labour promises a more efficient, equitable, and responsive healthcare system. This commitment to community pharmacies not only strengthens the overall healthcare infrastructure but also ensures that patients receive high-quality care at the most appropriate points of service.

I feel incredibly strongly that the new Westminster Government brings with it the opportunity to reframe the narrative, particularly in England, around pharmacy services. This shift in perspective is not just beneficial for pharmacy teams, but most importantly, for the patients they serve. Let’s embrace this change and work towards a more holistic, integrated, and effective healthcare system.

Whilst we await the detail, I believe the new Government could present a unique opportunity for community pharmacy, and, as Chairman of Numark I will continue to advocate for the support, recognition and importantly remuneration community pharmacy needs and deserves.

Whilst I am cautiously optimistic; let’s hope Labour is ready, willing, and fully prepared to engage. I certainly am.