Community pharmacies could potentially play a greater role in recognising illnesses, treating minor problems and promoting overall health, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

As has been widely reported in some parts of the media, this could involve having a conversation about managing weight, giving up smoking or reducing alcohol intake.

The quality standard report called for community pharmacies to be included in existing local health and social care pathways.

Doing so would ‘offer people effective, convenient and easily accessible services, reduce duplication of work and relieve pressure’ on other healthcare providers, NICE said.

Pharmacists should also play a role in referring and directing patients to other local health services, it added. This would require the sharing of information across all care providers to limit repeat assessments. 

Challenging misconceptions

Primary care minister Jo Churchill said: ‘We want every patient with a minor illness, or those seeking wellbeing guidance, to think ‘Pharmacy First’. It is paramount that, where appropriate, patients can be assessed close to home, saving unnecessary trips to A&E or their GP and helping them get the care they need quicker.’

The report, however, points to the ‘long-held view’ that pharmacists are ‘mainly responsible for dispensing medicines’. Patients not recognising the skills and knowledge that pharmacists possess means many do not actively seek that advice or help.

To counter this, NICE urged all care service providers to promote campaigns and activities that showcase the wider role of pharmacists.

‘Community pharmacy teams can engage with people who regularly buy over-the-counter medicines, collect prescriptions or ask for advice. They can use the opportunity to start a more general conversation about health and wellbeing,’ it said.