Community pharmacies should be used as a ‘touchpoint’ for social prescribing, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has said.
Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum event on the future of social prescribing this week (26 March), the chair of the RPS’s English Pharmacy Board Sandra Gidley said community pharmacists should be able to refer patients to social initiatives because they are ‘part of communities’.
To address patients’ social needs and reduce over-medicalisation, GPs can recommend community initiatives – known as social prescribing – ranging from cooking clubs and dance classes to mental health support groups by referring patients to ‘link workers’.
NHS England announced plans to fund 1,000 social prescribing link workers within primary care networks by April 2021 as part of the new GP contract in January.
Ms Gidley said: ‘Community pharmacy is a great place for… another touchpoint [for social prescribing].’
Pharmacists usually live local to their pharmacies, are familiar with services in the area and are used to having conversations around lifestyle improvements with their patients as part of medicines use reviews (MURs) and the new medicines services (NMS), she added.
Community pharmacists also see people ‘much more regularly’ than GPs, according to Ms Gidley. As a result, they have better relationships with them and are ‘often in a good position to intervene’ if they notice any problems, she said.
She added: ‘These are ideal opportunities to be able to link into the social prescribing agenda, but it’s such a medical model at the moment that nobody is thinking about it. We’re thinking quite hard about how we can get this further up the agenda.’
Formally involved in social prescribing?
Ms Gidley told The Pharmacist that although pharmacists already refer patients to social initiatives informally, she believes community and practice-based pharmacists should refer patients to link workers ‘in the first instance… if this is going to be a success and widely accepted’.
She added: ‘Who better than community pharmacy, because they really are based in the community’.
The Healthy Living Pharmacy (HLP) concept could be built upon, she suggested, with healthy living champions making great candidates for link workers.
Pharmacists in Essex and Kingston have already been trained and paid by Connect Well as ‘social prescribing champions’ to signpost patients to community groups as part of the HLP accreditation.
Lead programme manager for Mid Essex social prescribing model Connect Well, Siân Brand, agreed that community pharmacists are ‘perfectly placed’ for directing patients to social prescribing initiatives.
She added: ‘As a business, what better advert could you have than people being signposted to help in their community over and above, “Here are your meds, take them like this”’
NICE guidance published in August 2018 recommended community pharmacies formally refer or informally signpost patients to other services as appropriate, including community groups for ‘mental health and wellbeing support’.