The pharmacy sector has a role to play as part of the multidisciplinary team tackling the NHS backlog, pharmacy industry leaders have said.  

This comes after the plan for tackling the elective backlog caused by Covid, published by NHS England yesterday (8 February), made no mention of pharmacy’s involvement.  

The plan warned that the waiting list for elective care is set to continue growing for the next two years. 

According to Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association, the NHS will need ‘all the help it can get in order to deal with waiting lists and the increased burden of disease caused by undiagnosed and undertreated long-term conditions.  

‘Naturally that includes community pharmacy; our expertise, accessibility and dedication will be needed in the coming years, just as we have been relied upon during the Covid crisis,’ he said. 

‘Clearing the NHS backlog requires an end-to-end effort that stretches from self-care and pharmacy support right through to elective surgery in hospitals, plus an enhanced programme of prevention and disease management,’ he explained. 

Advice and guidance 

The plan, which mentioned the involvement of other areas of primary care and funding which came with that, explained that GPs’ role in tackling the NHS hospital backlog will focus on the use of ‘advice and guidance’ (A&G)

A&G services involve GPs accessing specialist advice by telephone or IT platforms, rather than referring patients for a hospital investigation – with PCNs due to be incentivised for doing so through ‘Investment and Impact Fund’ points worth £9.9m. 

Thorrun Govind, English chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), pointed out that pharmacists have already shown themselves to be key players in the NHS having supported urgent care as well as earlier diagnosis of conditions such as cardiovascular disease. 

‘As the third-largest health profession, pharmacists have a clear role to play in the effort to clear the elective backlog, as part of the multidisciplinary team,’ she said.  

‘With growing numbers of independent prescribers, there’s a clear opportunity to make the most of pharmacy professional practice to deliver high-quality patient care.’  

However, she said that help from pharmacists will only be possible with a ‘clear workforce plan, backed by appropriate funding, to recruit, retain and train the staff we need’.  

Mr Lyonette also called for ‘sufficient funding’ to be made available to the sector so it can play its ‘full part’ in helping the NHS.  

Mr Lyonette reiterated previous calls for a Pharmacy First approach to be launched in England, which would ‘empower’ community pharmacists to ‘take pressure off the NHS’.  

In October, the health secretary said he is looking into creating a national pharmacy minor ailments service in England, as part of a drive to take pressure off GP practices.