Working together with other healthcare professions will be crucial to embedding community pharmacy within the future of the NHS, pharmacist and academic Dr Mahendra Patel has told The Pharmacist.

And the new cross-sector Independent Pharmacy Professional Leadership Advisory Board is an opportunity for community pharmacy to have an ‘equal voice’ in ‘difficult conversations’ that set the direction of its future, Dr Patel added.

Speaking to The Pharmacist after organising a multi-disciplinary panel at the recent Sigma 2024 conference, Dr Patel acknowledged ‘tension’ between different healthcare professions, particularly pharmacists and GPs.

‘There is noise, and you don't ignore it, you have to manage that. But I want you to see the strategic perspective,’ he said.

At an organisational level, the professional body representing GPs, the Royal College of GPs, wanted to work together with community pharmacy, suggested Dr Patel.

‘We need to open up pharmacy within the new system and work more collegiately and collaboratively with our other professional healthcare colleagues, if we are going to be truly moving into the new NHS in an integrated fashion,’ Dr Patel told The Pharmacist.

He urged the sector to have a ‘dialogue’ with NHS England and other commissioning bodies.

In particular, Dr Patel said he was ‘excited’ about the opportunity for community pharmacy to be part of the new Independent Pharmacy Professional Leadership Advisory Board.

‘Community pharmacy is going to be at the table of this new professional leadership body, which it has never been!’

With the group expected to include expertise from across pharmacy, including community, hospital, academic, research, education, and the four UK nations, Dr Patel commented: ‘It's a very inclusive pot, and that's why I'm excited.’

‘You can shape the profession in terms of its development and where it's going to,’ Dr Patel said.

‘You could also bring community pharmacy right to the table where everybody can be heard equally, with an equal voice.’

While the direction of the group will be shaped by its chair, Dr Patel said that it would be about ‘leadership’, and ‘how the pharmacy profession is shaping to meet the needs for the future, as well as being able to embrace the current successfully, in terms of the challenges and opportunities’.

Dr Patel highlighted prescribing changes from 2026, as well as clinical, digital and workforce advances, as pivotal moments for the profession, which would bring an increased need to work together with other professions.

‘It is about developing and being firmly embedded within the NHS rather than community pharmacy being seen outside the NHS,’ he said.

The new cross-sector Independent Pharmacy Professional Leadership Advisory Board was the ideal place to have ‘difficult conversations’ about what the sector needs, added Dr Patel.

‘That's a new body now, start at the beginning. Let's get engaged. And let's not be left to the side.

‘There's lots of conversation that need to be had,’ Dr Patel said.

‘As Alison Strath, the chief pharmaceutical officer (CPhO) in Scotland said [during the Sigma 2024 panel]: "it's important we have the difficult conversations".

‘That was so positive. People are recognising conversations are difficult. But let's have them.’

Dr Patel also suggested that the sector’s dialogue with the NHS should be around clinical leadership, rather than funding.

Comparing ‘disenfranchised’ community pharmacists with his work extending clinical trials to ‘hard to reach communities’, Dr Patel said: ‘They’re not hard to reach, you just have to know the audience, work with them, and understand what they want. And for them to [understand] what we want.’

The session he organised at the Sigma 2024 conference with chief clinical officers from the four devolved nations – including dental, nursing and pharmaceutical leaders – intended to showcase what each was doing with community pharmacy and share ideas for future developments, Dr Patel said.

‘Perhaps the other nations can think: can we do this? Is there something here I as a community pharmacist can start looking at, run away with it and do an exemplar model on this?

‘Wales are leading in many ways on this, as are Northern Ireland, as are Scotland,’ he said.

Developing new initiatives for the sector would need to be both a ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down’ approach, Dr Patel said.

And he encouraged community pharmacists to simply ‘start’ the conversation about working together with other professions.

‘Let's see what conversations [and] dialogue emerge that could potentially work with other professions and disciplines at a more strategic level. And work with them to even pilot and support the ideas. Some of those ideas may come off into very good practice and service,’ Dr Patel suggested, highlighting that many currently commissioned services began as local initiatives or pilots.

He added that the recently introduced Pharmacy First service in England could pave the way for more services to be commissioned in the future.

‘It's not going to stop there. If [Pharmacy First] takes off, there are other windows that are going to open up.

‘That's where I feel that we're all sitting. Let's not squander this opportunity.’