A more integrated healthcare system in which pharmacists play a central and effective role in patient care has been proposed by the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA).

The plan for the future role of community pharmacists is outlined in a newly published report in which the PDA has outlined how lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic can better support integration in NHS primary care.

In the forward to the report, former heath administrator and Labour minister of health, Baron Philip Hunt said that many things have changed forever as a result of the pandemic. 'One of these is the understanding that pharmacy can provide a much more comprehensive contribution to healthcare than was ever contemplated before.'

The proposed integrated system aligns with the PDA’s Wider Than Medicines initiative to more fully utilise the skills of pharmacists as experts in medicines and the provision of pharmaceutical care.

Key recommendations of the report include:

  • The introduction of the pharmacy as the first port of call for patients, with the pharmacists instigating treatment for a minor ailment and issuing a prescription or referring the patient on to a GP or hospital. The aim would be to reduce pressure on GP surgeries and provide a quicker resolution to minor patient issues.
  • Greater collaboration within a locally managed system between pharmacists, GPs, nurses, other healthcare professional and social care specialists. This would prioritise specific needs in different areas and a greater reliance on shared patient data.
  • Greater pharmacist involvement in supporting patients diagnosed with long-term conditions resulting in increased access to healthcare, enabling GPs to focus on acute case and reducing unnecessary hospital visits.
  • The introduction of a system with at least two pharmacists working in each community pharmacy. One would deliver patient facing care around the use of medicines and using the prescription as an opportunity to make a clinical intervention. The other would run pharmaceutical care clinics and manage patients on an appointment-led basis.
  • Community nursing referrals by pharmacists would result in more timely access to treatment and flag concerns regarding future treatment.
  • The provision of a technology hub which will support patients who have no access to online services, particularly the elderly. The growth in virtual appointments within the NHS since the pandemic could be facilitated by a community pharmacy.
  • The provision of opportunistic services whilst delivering vaccinations in pharmacy-led vaccination hubs. The growth of vaccination services in pharmacies as a result of Covid-19 is set to continue and will enable pharmacists to offer health and diagnostic checks, as well as blood monitoring.
  • Support for the national obesity strategy. Pharmacies are already involved in public health campaigns such as encouraging the stopping of smoking and cardio-vascular disease prevention. They could extend this remit by helping reduce the high levels of obesity, particularly involving children. One in four UK adults and one in five reception-age children are obese. The pharmacy could offer regular weigh-in and advice on healthy eating and lifestyles.

Alison Jones, director of policy at the PDA, said: 'We recognise that with the right funding and structures pharmacists based in a variety of settings, including those in local communities, are best placed to carry out many functions and that is what these latest proposals set out to address.'

The PDA has recently called for action to resolve a problem of 'unnecessary' pharmacy closures this year due to pharmacist shortages.