Pharmacy bodies are urging the Government to involve community pharmacy in the new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) – the replacement for Public Health England (PHE).

Health secretary Matt Hancock announced plans earlier this week (18 August) to scrap PHE and replace it with the new ‘health protection’ body, which will span all four UK nations.

NIHP will have a ‘single and relentless mission' to protect people from ‘external threats to this country’s health,’ Mr Hancock said.

In response to the announcement, Claire Anderson, chair of the English Pharmacy Board, urged the Government to ‘make the most of pharmacy to reduce the backlog of care from Covid-19 and better manage demand across the health service’.

She said: ‘It’s encouraging to hear the Secretary of State’s commitment to embedding health improvements across government and the NHS, including pharmacy and primary care – this now needs to be supported by funding after years of cuts to public health.

‘Pharmacies play a vital role in supporting prevention, healthy living and tackling health inequalities, including in communities at a higher risk from Covid-19.’

'Looking for clarity'

Ms Anderson added that it is vital that scrapping PHE does not mean ‘losing time’ in light of future winter pressures, a second wave of Covid-19, and a potential ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

‘We must ensure public health messaging continues, and will be looking for clarity on support for health teams, local and regional roles and resources,’ she said.

Gareth Jones, head of Corporate Affairs at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said that community pharmacy should be a ‘key contributor’ to any public health service, and in particular on tackling health inequalities.

He said: ‘We will ensure that public health leadership, in whatever form that is, is well informed about the opportunities to improve health outcomes through community pharmacy.’

Health promotion and prevention

Simon Dukes, chief executive of PSNC, said the body is looking forward to working collaboratively with the new NIHP ‘for the benefit of patients and the public.’

He said: ‘However, health protection is only one part of public health so we eagerly await details of how the work around health promotion and prevention of ill health, in which community pharmacies have a vital role to play in supporting their local communities, will be taken forward.’

PHE and NHS Test and Trace, as well as the analytical capability of the Joint Biosecurity Centre, will now work together as NIHP to tackle the pandemic.

The new organisation will be led by Baroness Dido Harding - who is currently in charge of NHS Test and Trace. However, NIHP will only be formalised and operating from spring 2021, in order to minimise distribution, the Government has said.