The Pharmacist’s news editor Megan Ford reflects on a meeting with the health secretary that took an unexpected twist, and raises questions around the government’s expectations of the sector amid increasing demands.

In an interesting turn of events, I found myself writing about community pharmacy and the incoming Pharmacy First service this week after attending a meeting with the health and social care secretary that was exclusively about nursing in the NHS.

It seems that Steve Barclay is well rehearsed on the new common conditions service and that he believes it will even play a key part in supporting pressures within general practice. But what he failed to recognise was that community pharmacy has its own pressures, challenges and workforce issues to contend with, which some fear may jeopardise the success of a national Pharmacy First service altogether.

On Monday, our sister title Nursing in Practice – of which I am also the news editor – was invited to the Department of Health and Social Care to ask Steve Barclay just two questions specifically about nursing. As you can imagine, it then came much to my surprise when he mentioned pharmacy at least three times – unprompted.

Mr Barclay suggested that using the ‘wider skills mix’ of community pharmacy and launching Pharmacy First would help to reduce the ‘current pressures’ faced by staff working in general practices.

He said people would be able to go to a pharmacy, instead of to a general practice, for seven common conditions through the common conditions scheme and also pointed to the new pharmacy contraception service, when asked for solutions on nursing recruitment and retention within general practice.

While it is certainly positive to see community pharmacy at the forefront of the health secretary’s mind, it is concerning that he is potentially trying to address struggling workforce by piling the pressure on another. It also makes me concerned of his expectations of the sector, which has its own pressures to manage. We have been told more than once about funding and capacity concerns for the sector, especially as the new Pharmacy First service looms.

In fact, just this week The Pharmacist reported on a new report from the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) which suggested additional funding and resources were required if the scheme was to be a success. The CCA’s research brought up questions over how much time pharmacists would realistically even have to deliver the service, when so much time is already spent dispensing.

If only I was able to put on my pharmacy hat on during this meeting with the health secretary, I would have asked him directly how he and the government thinks the sector is going to deliver Pharmacy First and whether he accepts more funding and support is needed. But that is one for another day and something I will endeavour to do.

I just hope the health secretary avoids relying on an already struggling community pharmacy sector to fix problems elsewhere in the health service.