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Use pharmacy more, Tony Blair says in stark warning about future of NHS


Use pharmacy more, Tony Blair says in stark warning about future of NHS

By Neil Trainis

The former prime minister Tony Blair has today called for the expansion of the Pharmacy First scheme, more preventative and diagnostic services in pharmacies and greater use of pharmacist prescribers in a report that warns the NHS will not survive if it fails to provide easily accessible and timely care.

On the 75th birthday of the NHS, the report put forward six areas where it believes reform is needed to achieve “a modern, patient-centric and innovation-friendly health system” and help to avoid a situation where large numbers of people disillusioned with poor access to GPs and long waiting lists leave the NHS and turn to private healthcare. The report also warns the NHS has “no future” if it fails to embrace “the tech revolution.”

Pharmacy features quite heavily in the proposals. First, it recommends people are put in control of their own health and given ownership of their health data with the creation of Personal Health Accounts which could be housed by the NHS App and would give patients direct access to their medical records.

The report says “new access routes” are needed for services and providers within each integrated care system and tailored to that population’s needs and that involves expanding the number of services available in communities including pharmacies.

The report acknowledges preventative care such as screening services is provided “predominantly through community pharmacies” and suggests “many more services could and should follow suit” such as those that are “focused on prevention and early diagnosis, require low levels of upfront capital investment and are relatively simple to administer.” These, the report said, include annual flu vaccinations, human papillomavirus screening services, routine blood-pressure checks and cholesterol monitoring.

It said “open-access hubs offering community-based diagnosis and early intervention” could support people with mental health and musculoskeletal conditions and an expansion of the Pharmacy First scheme would “allow commissioning pharmacists to prescribe medication for a wider range of conditions, such as hypertension and sexually transmitted diseases.”

The report said an expansion of Pharmacy First “would make full use” of pharmacist prescribing, with all pharmacy graduates qualifying as independent prescribers from 2026. The report said that “could free up a massive 30 million GP appointments in England every year.”

It also suggested ICSs should create “neighbourhood hubs” which would bring a range of services together “under a single roof.” Using Boots’ St Albans Health Hub, which connects patients to doctors, therapists and other healthcare providers, as an example, it said the hubs could include pharmacy as well as optometry and audiology services, diagnostics and preventative healthcare such as screening, vaccinations, smoking cessation, primary care services and local social care.

The report’s other proposals include expanding access to the Genomic Medicine Service to more patients, giving local ICS leaders “more autonomy in exchange for smarter accountability” which would be “underpinned by increased transparency,” with “the right financial incentives to drive innovation and focus on outcomes not inputs.”

The report also called for greater investment in technology including artificial intelligence and urged the government to build on its NHS Workforce Plan “to address immediate pressures and ensure staff are properly incentivised to harness research and innovation to improve patient care.”

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