The NHS is at a critical state - in England A&E waiting times reached levels not seen in the last decade over the winter. Chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens has said if nothing changes "we'll run into the sand." GPs have been lamenting the lack of funding they've received and the increase on their workload - the NHS simply cannot continue the way it has in the past.
However, there are a large number of healthcare professionals expected to be in surplus over the coming years and who it seems have finally found their voice and are stating their worth to the healthcare sector - pharmacists.
Making noise is the least of their problems from what I've found out over the last few months - achieving recognition as a viable reputable healthcare professional as part of the primary care sector seems to be the issue.
Ask most people what primary care is and you'll more times that not receive the same answer, GPs. But it's not and never has been - primary care includes pharmacists, dentists, optometrists, and nurses to name a few. It can be argued GPs are rather good at PR - I've even had the head of the much maligned care.data programme refer to primary care and talk about just GPs.
Trying to break through the jargon of the NHS is hard enough after the former Health Secretary's Andrew Lansley's much maligned Health & Social Care Act - responsible for the majority of current NHS organisations - but spare a thought for pharmacists who are trying to improve health inequalities in their local areas and being swamped by bureaucracy after bureaucracy.
I exclusively reported how pharmacists are struggling to be involved in the Better Care Fund due to masses of red tape and poor links between Health and Wellbeing Boards - sadly it's not limited to just one area of the country. Speaking to different local pharmaceutical committees, the same line seemed to be replayed, with pharmacists struggling to be seen on a level footing with their primary care peers. One chair told me pharmacists in his patch had to "toe the line" according to the direction of his GP-influenced clinical commissioning group. It would be crass to assume this is happening in every area but there is clearly something holding back pharmacists from being able to prove their worth.
As I said earlier, pharmacists are a group of professionals expected to be in surplus over the coming years. It's clearly common (and business) sense to allow pharmacists to play more of a role in primary care when the healthcare sector is coming under more and more pressure with an ageing population with multiple long-term conditions. But when they can't even access summary care records* of patients what can they do? Pharmacists both need and want to do more to ease the pressures on the service?
So why is nobody paying them enough attention and letting them help the NHS more?
*currently pilots are being held to allow pharmacists access to parts of the summary care records.
Written by Carlisle Baker-Jackson