Now GPs are referring to pharmacies through the community pharmacist consultation service, it will be the most important initiative we deliver over the next five years in England, says Nick Kaye...
Community pharmacy has a strong future. Yes, I have said it and I believe it.
Some say I am over-optimistic, naïve, misinformed or just plain wrong! I have had all these comments and more thrown at me during my career and sometimes they were well placed. However, if Covid has taught us anything, it’s that there is more than enough work for all to do, so I say again, community pharmacy has a strong future.
The world in 2020 has not been normal by any stretch of the imagination but some things have stayed constant. People have needed to access healthcare and have looked to those institutions that offer stability in uncertain times.
Community pharmacy is one such institution. We have played our part in maintaining the fabric of our communities, with the work pharmacy teams did every day in March and April during lockdown one and now, again, in lockdown two.
Even though I believe in the future of the sector, another constant is the reality of what feels like an uncertain future. We hear phrases like ‘system change’ and ‘real time decreasing in funding’. As an owner, when you know so many are depending on you, this adds additional pressure which we all feel, whether we have one or many pharmacies.
I have listened to many views about what the future could look like for community pharmacy and I believe it will be service driven, while maintaining the highest standards in the safe supply of medicines. The message again and again is that our patients are at the heart of everything we do - the clue is, after all, in the name: ‘community’ pharmacy.
This people-centred approach will serve us well. We have seen many aspects of society creaking under the demands of a Covid world and the NHS is no different. It has repurposed to an ‘on-the-day’ service with routine operations cancelled in hospitals and GP having to react within a system that could be overwhelmed.
‘Normal’ work has stopped or been reduced, causing the massive backlog of non-urgent treatment. What this shows us is that there is more than enough work for everyone within the health service, and especially in primary care. This breeds opportunity.
So here we are with opportunity to play a more integrated role in NHS primary care. Maybe the system has started to see our value. GP CPCS will be one of the most fundamentally important services we have to deliver over the next five years in England. It could be game changer for our position within our own local health eco-systems.
If the service is delivered well then GPs will really struggle without us. They will be our defender, as it was in Cornwall when, five years ago, the supply of emergency hormonal contraception was going to decommissioned from pharmacies. Our biggest supporters for keeping the service going were GPs. Trust had been built up in us and the EHC service we provided, and it survives to this day.
My hope for GP CPCS is that it will become inconceivable to turn the service off, and from it good things will grow. However, it is confession time. I have in the past been slow to embrace new services - not the principle or the ideology of service provision - just the doing bit, making the practical changes in what we do and how we do it.
But we can’t take 10 years to implement GP CPS as we did with MURs, and we need to learn from and support each other because for community pharmacy to succeed we all need to succeed. Having admitted to my initial lack of skills in introducing new services, I do think we need to recognise how far we have come since I qualified in 1998.
If you told me then that I would be paid for speaking to patients in a consultation room, that I would be injecting patients in the pharmacy, and that prescriptions could be sent anywhere in England in real time, I wouldn’t have believed you
But I also wouldn’t have believed that at 44 years of age my beautiful wife would be pregnant with my fifth child, but that is a story for another day.
So I believe with a service that will make us a fundamental part of primary care, a work force that is skilled and stands ready to vaccinate against Covid-19, whilst keeping the nations medicines flowing safely and efficiently and when I hear two days ago of a young enthusiastic pharmacist brimming with excitement having just purchased their first pharmacy, I believe community pharmacy has a strong future.
Nick Kaye is a leading community pharmacist based in Cornwall.