The landscape of community pharmacy is ever-shifting, and anything but stagnant. The word ‘community’ is particularly appropriate, as at its heart are dedicated professionals that actively work together to remain informed, united and heard- often in the face of adversity from many sides.
Whether it has been in the form of funding cuts, an increasingly digital industry, or chronic under-staffing issues, the sector has been dealt with their fair share of heavy blows. But through this, pharmacists are notable in their immersion in their profession and their engagement with their peers- using multiple outlets to make positive suggestions for change, critique bureaucratic decision making and ensure their collective voice is not drowned out.
Figureheads such as Thorrun Govind, Tess Fenn and Johnathan Laird are at the vanguard of community pharmacy development- participating and leading in bodies such as the RPS and APTUK to raise awareness of the crucial contribution pharmacy makes to the community, and the steps that should be taken to both preserve and advance this. Sites such as Chemist & Druggist and Pharmaceutical Journal are invaluable resources not only for news, but for access to informed and constructive opinion and debate. It is an industry populated with passionate individuals.
It is also in the midst of an unprecedented era of change. As the world of healthcare becomes ever more influenced by online services, an ageing population and financial uncertainty, the role of the community pharmacy is feeling a need to expand- and its pharmacists to fulfill their potential as care-givers to the public. To achieve this, initiatives are being put in place to dispel some of the dispensing-orientated image that has historically informed the public, in efforts to make common knowledge the plethora of services and advice on offer from community pharmacists. These have included, but not been limited to- the Minor Ailments Scheme, Emergency Contraceptive services, Azithromycin.net and the New Medicine Service. Whilst the development of technology is becoming more useful in the dispensing of medicines, this potentially puts pharmacists in a better position to be at the forefront of primary-care in their community, prescribing and care-giving both pre and post diagnosis.
As the 2018 C&D ‘Above and Beyond’ awards display, pharmacists regularly provide vital and compassionate services that go way beyond the store doors. Whilst it would do some ministers good to become acquainted with just how invaluable pharmacy is as a front-line care provider, pharmacists are uniting in their efforts to reinforce this where it matters most- in their day-to-day contact with patients. It is clear that the services and expertise found within pharmacy have the potential to relieve many of the strains felt by the NHS, such as the high number of avoidable emergency admissions as noted by NAO. As creatures of habit, many default to seeking out advice and services from their oversubscribed GP and hospital services, when a local pharmacy could often provide the appropriate care without adding to this weight. They are not simply a place for picking up pills. And therefore the profession is in a challenging position- needing to diversify and publicise its services to ensure they are used and valued, but whilst also increasing its dispensing efficiency- and all in the face of budget cuts, medicinal price issues and the looming threat of online subscription services.
Simply put- the need for a supported pharmacy sector within the UK’s healthcare industry is higher than ever, and enabling contributions from the state are essential to achieving this. The overlooking and undervaluing of pharmacy needs to change- the knock-on effects of this will be hugely beneficial to both the public and the industry. Pharmacies have the potential to be the most accessible primary-care providers outside of hospitals and GP surgeries. If they are able to fulfill this then the country will hopefully experience a curbing in the habits of those that would typically only step into their local branch to pick up medicines, and then begin to see the public making the most of expertise that is so readily available to them. But it is not simply up to the pharmacists and the patients to overhaul this image and attitude- it can only be achieved with the proper financial, logistical and personal support from those bodies such as the Department of Health that can either clear the way for progression or stall progress altogether. Expecting the sector to pull more resources from an ever-decreasing pool of funds is grossly unrealistic, and damaging in the long-run to both the service providers and customers. Both Scotland and Wales are further along in their efforts to maximise the use of Community Pharmacy and the talents of those working within it, and England should be looking to follow suit in their support of such an essential sector of the healthcare industry.