An amendment to the Health and Care Bill, which would have allowed pharmacists to refer patients directly to other healthcare professionals, has been withdrawn. 

The amendment – put forward by Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath –  would have also required the health secretary to make the 'best use of and expand' the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service.     

They must also ensure that community pharmacists can refer people directly to other healthcare professionals. 

This comes as part of wider proposals in the amendment for the health secretary to launch a national self-care strategy to reduce workload on the wider NHS 

At the third reading of the Health and Care Bill in the House of Lords last week (16 March), Lord Hunt said: ‘If the Government were prepared to run with this strategy, there are all sorts of behaviours that they could start to encourage.  

‘They could ensure that individuals understand or are willing to practise self-care [...] and ensure that the system is supported to encourage self-care where appropriate, with pharmacies, of course, playing a big role in that.’ 

However, the Conservative peer, Baroness Penn disagreed with the proposals and called for Lord Hunt to withdraw the amendment. She said that the Government was already ‘threading self-care through a wide range of work, reflecting the range of areas that it impacts upon’.   

She went on to explain that the Government does not think placing an ‘additional duty’ on the health secretary would be the ‘right way to support this work’. 

‘It would take it out of the NHS long-term plan, where it belongs as part of a holistic approach to the provision of a health service. It could risk making it more disjointed rather than integrated into its approach’, she said. 

Withdrawing the amendment after a lack of support, Lord Hunt said: ‘The Government may not want a strategy but, at some point, setting out their aim in this area and giving the right signals to us as individuals, but also to the system, would be very helpful.’ 

Despite the withdrawal of the amendment, Lord Hunt did receive some support from other members of the House of Lords, including Liberal Democrat peer Lord Clement-Jones – a self-acclaimed ‘big supporter’ of community pharmacy.  

Lord Clement-Jones said: ‘It is evident now that self-care can help address many of the challenges we face in the NHS today, but to do so we need to address some of the system barriers to self-care, as described in this amendment and unlock the important behavioral shifts that enabled people to self-care during the pandemic.’ 

He also called for the NHS to give pharmacists read-write access so they can ‘be a core part of an individual’s primary healthcare team’. 

Labour peer, Baroness Wheeler also ‘strongly’ supported the amendment and said also called for improved technologies that would help pharmacists provide better care.  

In October, NHS leaders called the Government to better integrate the pharmacy sector into the healthcare system in England to encourage self-care.  

This was part of a list of proposals by several health bodies to create a national ‘self-care' strategy to help ease the workload burden on the NHS and reduce health inequalities. 

This included a call for ‘accelerating efforts’ to allow pharmacists to have read-write access to individuals’ medical records and refer directly to other healthcare professionals.   

Amendment 165 in full:

After Clause 164, insert the following new Clause—'Secretary of State: Duty to promote and ensure the full integration of self-care for minor ailments within the health system

(1) The Secretary of State, in exercise of his or her functions, must promote self-care for minor ailments and prepare a national self-care strategy to integrate self-care fully into the wider health system.

(2) The national self-care strategy referred to in subsection (1) must include measures to—(a) improve inequalities in health literacy, (b) enhance the understanding of primary and secondary age children on how to self-care,(c) introduce self-care modules in healthcare professionals’ training curricula and continuing professional development,(d) make best use of, and expand, the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service,(e) improve access to effective self-care treatments,(f) enable community pharmacists to refer people directly to other healthcare professionals,(g) ensure better support for Primary Care Networks (PCNs) to deliver self-care,(h) evaluate the use of technologies developed during the Covid-19 pandemic to promote greater self-care, and(i) accelerate efforts to enable community pharmacists to populate medical records.’

Member’s explanatory statement: ‘This amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State promotes self-care for minor ailments and publishes a national self-care strategy to fully integrate it into the wider health system.’