The pharmacy sector should be better integrated into the healthcare system in England in order to encourage self-care, NHS leaders have urged the Government.  

This should include ‘accelerating efforts’ to allow pharmacists to have read-write access to individuals’ medical records and refer directly onto other healthcare professionals.  

The call is part of proposal by several health bodies to create a national ‘self-care' strategy to help ease the workload burden on the NHS and reduce health inequalities.

The document, published today (19 October), said: ‘Individuals should understand and be willing to practise self-care, knowing how to take care of themselves and where to go when they are feeling unwell.’’. 

To support this, the authors called for a pharmacy to be ‘much more’ integrated into the primary care pathway and for there to be ‘clear routes to self-care across primary and secondary care’. 

The authors of the document, including the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) and NHS Clinical Commissioners, among others, said that pharmacists should have the right to refer people directly to other healthcare professionals so that patients visiting a pharmacy know that it will lead them either to the best self-care advice or to another appropriate expert.  

To maximise the benefits of self-care, the authors called for the Government to make ‘better use’ of the community pharmacy consultation service by enabling self-referral and exploring the possible referrals from other healthcare professionals such as A&E.  

It also suggested the implementation of self-care recommendation prescriptions to ‘support GPs and other healthcare professionals to appropriately refer patients to self-care'.  

The proposal said: ‘To meet these ambitions, the rigid patient pathways, unnecessary prescribing habits and persevering perceptions of hierarchies in the NHS must all be done away with.’  

This comes as general practices in England have been encouraged to sign up to the community pharmacy consultation service (CPCS) before 1 December if they want to access a £250m winter access fund.  

According to NHSE, just 800 of the 6,822 GP practices in England are signed up to the service.  

Paul Bennett, RPS CEO, said: ‘Pharmacists have a vital role to play in supporting people to self-care by enhancing access, choice and information for those wanting to care for themselves or their families. 

‘This strategy aims to integrate the promotion of everyday wellbeing and the management of self-treatable and long-term conditions into the wider health system. 

‘Making the best use of the community pharmacy consultation service is part of this and we’d like to see community pharmacists enabled to refer people directly to colleagues in the multidisciplinary team. Providing pharmacists with the access needed to populate patient care records would have a huge impact on many levels across the system and take care both more holistic and safer.’ 

Helga Mangion, policy manager at the NPA said: 'We support these proposals, which acknowledge that community pharmacy will need to be front and centre of any serious effort to boost self-care.

'As the front door to the NHS, community pharmacy is an essential element of whole-systems support for self care, leading to better health outcomes and improved quality of life.'