Pharmacy minister Jo Churchill made her first public address to the sector this week (25 September), after her appointment to the role last month.
It is an ‘exciting and important time’ for community pharmacy, Ms Churchill told delegates at the Public Services Negotiating Committee’s (PSNC) annual Local Pharmaceutical Committee (LPC) conference.
Appearing minutes before Parliament reconvened following the Supreme Court’s historical ruling that its suspension was unlawful, she added that her commitment to the conference was testament to the importance with which she views community pharmacy.
Here’s our digest of Ms Churchill’s four key messages for the sector.
1. The sector is facing a ‘programme of change’
The Government is pursuing a ‘programme of transformation within community pharmacy’, Ms Churchill said.
Driving these changes is the new community pharmacy contract, which brings continuity ‘at long last’, as well as creating new and expanded roles for community pharmacists. The aim of the deal is to support community pharmacists to ‘utilise all of their clinical expertise’, she added.
2. The new contract is not enough
Ms Churchill said: ‘To make a success of this, we will need to do much more than design and implement new services.’
Both culture change and further reform are needed, she added, to encourage a ‘pharmacy first’ attitude in patients and to free up pharmacists’ time to see them. Ms Churchill said: ‘We will need to work hard to make sure that public confidence in using community pharmacy services continues to grow, with other parts of the NHS proactively signposting people to them, growing trust in the system.’
She added: ‘There is still a lot of detail to colour in, but the direction of travel is clear.’
3. The sector will need support to achieve integration
Collaborative working that identifies efficiencies across primary care is vital in a context where ‘money is limited’, Ms Churchill said.
However, ‘hard work and culture change’ will be needed and LPCs are best placed to support contractors as they integrate across primary care networks (PCNs). Ms Churchill added: ‘As PCNs develop, LPCs will need to engage with clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and local medical committees (LMCs) to advocate and demonstrate how community pharmacy services can be hardwired into local care pathways and how their contribution drives improved patient outcomes and by definition, value for money.’
The Government will incentivise collaboration across primary care by ‘rewarding coordinated activity that results in improved health outcomes for patients’ and contractors can expect continued alignment between their contract and the GP contract, Ms Churchill said.
She added: ‘The Government is committed to supporting the sector to achieve [integration] and working through the concerns that some have expressed to me of how you change from a numbers to an outcomes-focussed service.’
4. Brexit will not derail future plans for pharmacy
Preparations for exiting the EU ‘has and no doubt will continue to involve a great deal of the Government’s time and resources’, but the Government is ‘determined to maintain the pace’ of progress within community pharmacy and the NHS, Ms Churchill said.
She added: ‘It is only right to acknowledge that we are delivering this important agenda in completely unprecedented times. However, we are committed to still making progress on the things that really affect people’s lives every day and making sure that we focus on domestic issues.’
Ms Churchill acknowledged that medicines shortages will ‘continue to be a concern’ for contractors but reiterated that any local stockpiling at pharmacy or patient level is ‘totally counter-productive’.