The importance of the community pharmacy sector in addressing England’s health service challenges has been underlined by two recently published academic studies.

The two peer-reviewed papers – Pharmacy users’ perceptions, awareness and future expectations of community pharmacy in England, and Professional stakeholders’ expectations for the future of community pharmacy practice in England – are based on focus group and qualitative studies, and published on the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice (IJPP) and BMJ Open respectively.

The first study (published on IJPP) concludes that, despite low awareness of many community pharmacy services, there is a positive perception of known services among pharmacy users, and once they have greater awareness of the sector, there is considerable support for greater community pharmacy involvement in extended and new services in collaboration with the wider primary care sector.

As part of the paper’s recommendations, it suggests that government and pharmacy-representative organisations ‘should promote community pharmacy collaboration with other sectors of primary care, particularly GPs’.

In addition, it suggests automated dispending ‘should be encouraged’, noting that technology should be used to help ‘enhance interaction with patients, make it easy to see staff in-person, and [does] not cause digital inequalities’.

Authors also call for adequate funding for the sector and for action to ‘increase public awareness of community pharmacy’.

According to the second study (on BMJ Open), stakeholders expect that community pharmacists will help to address current NHS challenges by managing long-term conditions, but government and NHS support – along with primary care collaboration and new technologies – will be fundamental in facilitating this.

Among the authors of both studies is Dr Evina Paloumpi, from the Department of Life Sciences at the University of Bath, who earlier in the year told a parliamentary event that the aim of the research was to ‘provide evidence to support a strategy for the future developments of community pharmacy, to ensure this sector continues to meet the needs of the public in the NHS’.

The research informs a recently published policy brief for the sector by University of Bath and University of Strathclyde, funded by Sigma Pharmaceuticals.

The brief, which has been in the making since 2018, highlights the importance of giving pharmacists a ‘greater role’ in patient care to help ease pressure on GP services.

Other researchers involved in this work included: Dr Matthew Jones, Department of Life Sciences, University of Bath; Dr Piotr Ozieranski, Department of Social and Policy Sciences University of Bath and Professor Margaret Watson, Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, University of Strathclyde.