Pharmacies should be part of the primary care offer and do more for their communities, the shadow minister for primary care and public health, Preet Kaur Gill, has said.
The comments were made in a video filmed during a visit to an independent community pharmacy in Staffordshire last week.
Ms Gill, who is the Labour (Co-op) MP for Birmingham and Edgbaston, took on responsibility for Labour’s pharmacy policy earlier this month. This was her first visit to a community pharmacy since that appointment.
In the video message she said that she wanted to see pharmacy ‘being part of the primary care offer, building on the excellence and ability of pharmacists to reach their license and do so much more for communities, because they are rooted in the heart of their communities’.
The visit was hosted by third-generation pharmacy owner, Kieran Eason, and organised by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA).
Mr Eason said: ‘It’s great that Preet came to hear first-hand about the challenges we face and the enormous potential of community pharmacies across the country.’
He added that as an independent prescriber, he has the skills ‘to provide even more convenient care’, but current low levels of funding ‘severely limit’ the contribution he and other clinicians can make.
In a Westminster Hall debate earlier this month, Ms Gill highlighted the ‘enormous contribution’ that pharmacists make to the healthcare system, including by already giving around 58 million informal consultations to walk-in patients a year, saving 20 million GP appointments.
She also said that their skills were ‘under-utilised’, highlighting that drug-related problems, often resulting from poor medicine management, cause around 15% of hospital admissions and cost the NHS hundreds of pounds a night.
‘There is good practice in pockets across the country that we should be building on,’ Ms Gill told MPs.
'I know that ministers have belatedly acknowledged that, and there has been some expansion of the clinical services that pharmacies offer in recent years.
‘However, a few sticking-plaster proposals really miss the opportunities that are there.
And she asked whether health minister Neil O’Brien could promise that Pharmacy First would be operational in time for the flu season.
She also asked what consideration he had given to expanding Pharmacy First to establish a community pharmacist prescribing service covering a broader range of common conditions, and what his long-term strategy to ‘equip pharmacies for a future where their talents, capacity and expertise can be fully utilised and to fix the front door of the NHS’ was.
During the debate, Ms Gill also highlighted funding challenges facing the community pharmacy sector, branch closures, workforce, and issues with hub and spoke efficiencies.
She suggested that ‘without a functioning community pharmacies network, the government’s primary care recovery plan is built on very shaky foundations’.
And she said that the Labour party ‘have a plan to reform the NHS to shift care from acute settings to the community’, making use of community pharmacies.
‘As part of our plans to build a neighbourhood health service, we will realise the potential of community pharmacies, giving people services that they can rely on and access earlier on their doorstep,’ she said.
Ms Gill added that Labour’s plan would include ‘accelerating the roll-out of independent prescribing to establish a community pharmacist prescribing service that covers a broad range of common conditions’; ‘cutting unnecessary red tape to allow pharmacy technicians to step up’; and ‘ensuring that pharmacists can work to the top of their licence and make more of their considerable expertise in prescribing and medicines management, rather than having repetitive dispensing processes’.
She said that these plans ‘will be supported by greater digital interoperability, allowing the profession to support GPs in the management of long-term conditions’.
In response to the points raised by MPs in the debate, Mr O’Brien said that the government was consulting Community Pharmacy England (CPE) on its primary care recovery plan proposals, ‘with the aim of starting Pharmacy First this winter’.
He also highlighted the Community Pharmacy Consultation Scheme (CPCS), the New Medicines Service (NMS), blood pressure checks through community pharmacies, the Pharmacy Contraception Service and the role pharmacies play in delivering vaccinations.
Mr O’Brien also drew attention to the economic study that will be commissioned by NHS England ‘to better understand the cost of delivering pharmaceutical services’ and which will ‘feed into any future funding decisions on community pharmacy’.
Regarding closures, he said that ‘we are seeing changes in the market, with some of the large pharmacy businesses divesting’, but added that the government was ensuring that pharmacies could continue to play ‘a crucial role in providing access in deprived areas’.
And he highlighted the recent long-term workforce plan and investment in training for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.
Mr O’Brien also pointed to legislative changes which he said would allow pharmacy teams to do more.
He said that the government was ‘modernising legislation to make it clear that pharmacists no longer have to directly supervise all the activities of pharmacy technicians’, and planned to ‘enable any member of the pharmacy team to hand out appropriately checked and bagged medicines in the absence of a pharmacist’.
And he added that the government was consulting on changes to legislation to enable pharmacy technicians to use patient group directions (PGDs), ‘which would enable pharmacy technicians to do more’.