Local Pharmaceutical Committees (LPCs) have a responsibility to help other healthcare providers and commissioners understand what Pharmacy First is, and what it is not, National Pharmacy Association (NPA) chair Nick Kaye has told our sister title, Healthcare Leader.

Speaking to the publication, Mr Kaye said that directors of primary care ask him to ‘tell us what we don’t know’.

He described community pharmacists and the LPC as ‘critical friends’ to the integrated care board (ICB), adding that ICBs in his local integrated care system (ICS) are ‘asking questions about what stuff means so they can avoid any unintended consequences’.

‘So, a really simple example would be asking us what changing a prescription length for a patient actually means, both for them and from a cost-effective perspective,’ he said.

And he added that this connectivity between the front lines of primary care was ever more important with the upcoming launch of Pharmacy First on Wednesday.

‘We’re trying to make sure that our system is as ready as it can be, and that’s been a key area of focus for us,’ he said.

‘When it comes to system communication, what Pharmacy First is not, is as important as what it is. It’s these types of things, as an LPC or at local level, which we have a responsibility to help support and demystify within the system.’

The comments came as part of Healthcare Leader's recent report into how ICBs are managing their relationships with community pharmacies, 10 months on from taking over responsibility for commissioning local services from the sector.

The report highlighted the importance of collaborative working between healthcare providers.

Luvjit Kandula, director of pharmacy transformation at Community Pharmacy Greater Manchester, told Healthcare Leader that increased level of integrated working between GP practices and community pharmacy in her area helped to build an understanding and awareness of the challenges both sectors face.

‘The ongoing engagement with localities and practices to implement GP CPCS [the Community Pharmacy Consultation Scheme] and other advanced services has helped to develop open communication channels to resolve challenges through better communication,’ she said.

While she said that there was variation in engagement and issues such as medicines shortages are ‘causing additional workload and strain to all parts of primary care', she said that there were also opportunities to engage with the ICB, locality boards, practices, GP boards and LMCs ‘to work together and resolve ongoing issues’.

And Yousaf Ahmad, chief pharmacist and director of medicines optimisation at Frimley Health and Care integrated care system (ICS), told Healthcare Leader that community pharmacy was ‘uniquely positioned’ as ‘a strategic asset’ to achieve medicines optimisation and population health goals.

But he stressed that connecting pharmacy teams with other elements of primary care and the broader health and care sector was ‘essential for driving pharmacy-led transformation’.

‘The diverse components of ICSs must come to understand and harness this latent potential,’ he said.

But Raj Matharu, chief executive of Community Pharmacy South East London, told Healthcare Leader that more pharmacy leaders are needed in neighbourhoods, places and integrated care systems – the terms used by the NHS to describe services in local areas of varying sizes working together for the good of local population health.

He said that with greater representation, GPs will see more of the pharmacists they usually work with and that will foster integration and relationships at system level.

‘In my role, I work collaboratively across community pharmacists in the neighbourhood to support and assist in providing NHS services, but we still don’t have enough community pharmacy leaders and, at meetings, I’m usually outnumbered,’ he said.

‘That’s why I engaged with my ICB leadership team and together we created a plan for what we call community pharmacy neighbourhood teams which, as it matures, will develop leaders at a neighbourhood, place and system level and then will start engaging and going to meetings that I alone cannot go to, creating even more partnerships,’ he added.

And he said that local community pharmacy neighbourhood leads also make use of a WhatsApp group for peer review and support.

‘At the moment, it’s restricted to community pharmacy PCN leads so they can get a bit of confidence in the group. Eventually, I want to start engaging with practice pharmacists, PCN pharmacists and hospital pharmacists, creating an even greater clinical network, especially since the pharmacy foundation year is going to be multisector very soon,’ he said.

The report also highlighted challenges around transforming local services within current regulatory frameworks, as well as workforce challenges exacerbated by the Additional Roles Reimbursment Scheme (ARRS).

Ben Squires, head of primary care at NHS Greater Manchester Integrated Care, told Healthcare Leader: 'For ICBs to be able to make the most of POD delegation [commissioning powers for pharmacy, optometry and dentistry services] and opportunities for local service development and integration, it is important that NHS England allows them to maximise the flexibility within existing regulations and contractual tools but also contribute to the future design of regulatory arrangements, ensuring that the ICBs and local systems have expertise and skills in this area.’

And Michael Lennox, NPA integration lead, said that while it was ‘still early days’ to judge whether the shift of power to ICBs will help maximise the contribution of community pharmacy to improved health and social care, the NPA remains ‘committed to supporting pharmacies to engage at systems level’, as this offers ‘the best chance’ of introducing innovation and developing integrated clinical services.

‘The Fuller and Hewitt reviews highlighted significant opportunities for community pharmacy in primary care and prevention, and that applies every bit as much today,’ he said.

This article is an adapted excerpt from our sister title Healthcare Leader's recent report into how ICBs are managing their relationships with community pharmacies, 10 months on from taking over responsibility for commissioning local services from the sector.

Read the full report: How pharmacy delegation is working in ICBs - Healthcare Leader (healthcareleadernews.com)