A recent Ipsos survey, published last week, found that just 55% of people would be comfortable with a proactive approach from community pharmacy staff to suggest a conversation about ways to manage their weight.

However, it found that 75% of those polled would be comfortable with pharmacy teams supporting them to lose weight if they already wanted to do so.

This comes as a mandatory weight management campaign begins today, with every community pharmacy in England asked to participate in an NHS campaign throughout January, for example by displaying posters and information cards.

Pharmacies that choose to participate in the healthy living support domain of the 2022/23 Pharmacy Quality Scheme (PQS) are also required to proactively discuss weight management with at least 25 patients and refer at least four people who meet the criteria to either a Local Authority funded tier 2 weight management service or the NHS Digital Weight Management Programme.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee has said that pharmacy team s could use the weight management campaign materials as conversation starters to assist them with meeting the PQS requirements, and shared guidance from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities on having conversations about weight.

High confidence in pharmacy services

The survey, which was commissioned by NHS England and polled 2,067 residents across England aged 16 or above between 21 and 27 July 2022, found a high level of confidence in pharmacy services.

For instance, 85% of smokers said that they would feel comfortable being referred by an NHS service to a community pharmacy for smoking cessation support.

Most (90% of) people said that they would be comfortable being referred to a community pharmacist for a minor illness after a conversation with a GP receptionist, or an online consultation with a nurse or a GP.

Of those who had used a pharmacy in the last year for advice about medicines, a health problem or injury, or advice on what health service they should use, 91% said that they had received good advice and just 3% said that the advice they received was poor.

The majority of respondents (87%) also said that on their last visit to a community pharmacy they were treated with respect, were able to get what they needed, and that the pharmacy was clean and well maintained.

Lower confidence in pharmacist prescribing new medicines

The survey also found that 77% of patients have confidence in a pharmacist prescribing medications independently of a doctor or nurse when prescribing medicines that a person has had before, and 70% would be confident in a pharmacist prescribing medication that they are currently prescribed.

However, just 56% of patients would be confident for a pharmacist to prescribe them a medication that they have not taken before.

From 2026, all newly registered pharmacists will qualify as independent prescribers, with the ability to prescribe medicines within their scope of practice.

Public are habitual users of community pharmacies

In England, 41% of the public said that they tend to use small chain or independent pharmacies, while 35% use large or medium sized pharmacy chains, and 73% said that they tend to use the same community pharmacy every time they visit.

However, just 26% said they use or contact a community pharmacy monthly, while 20% said they don’t normally use or visit a community pharmacy.

Appetite for pharmacies to do more

Of those surveyed, 68% said that a pharmacy would be the place that they would be most likely to go to if they needed advice on medicines, while 54% would choose a pharmacy first for minor conditions such as a sore throat or earache.

The public also said that pharmacies should offer services like providing advice about minor health problems (71%) and medicines (67%), flu vaccinations (64%) and blood pressure checks (64%).

Ipsos said that this suggests ‘public appetite for using community pharmacies for some functions they would currently be seen as the domain of GP practices, representing a clear opportunity for expanding the services pharmacies offer’.

Pharmacy services unsustainable, says CCA

However, Malcom Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), warned that current and expanded services offered by community pharmacies are unsustainable and at risk without an urgent injection of funding into the sector.

He said: ‘Cuts to funding over the past eight years mean that many local pharmacies are no longer viable. Without substantial investment, we will see the continued erosion of the service pharmacies can provide.’

The CCA also called on the NHS to pause the recruitment of pharmacists into GP surgeries.

‘Patients are suffering because the demand for pharmacists in England is now significantly greater than that which the existing workforce can deliver’, Mr Harrison said.

He also urged the NHS ‘reconsider the scale of their ambition, with regard to the future of community pharmacy’.

‘On average [CPCS figures] means one patient is referred to each pharmacy every two weeks. That is not a sustainable service,’ he said.

‘It is evident that patients are happy to use their local pharmacy to access the care and support they need in the community.

‘To be able to meet this demand community pharmacies need urgent support themselves’, Mr Harrison added.