Chief Executive’s blog: February 2020

Chief Executive’s blog: February 2020

“Community pharmacy is already picking up patients concerned about Covid-19 who have been displaced from general practice”

By Chief Executive Simon Dukes

Richard Branson has been quoted as saying that in order to succeed, “you have to listen to the people who are on the front line.” It seems to me that is never more apposite than when there is a crisis looming. For once, I’m not talking about pharmacy funding – although I probably will be next month – I’m referring to 2019-nCov. The virus which, thanks to the World Health Organisation, has escaped being called after the city or continent (or animal) from where it originated and is instead called Covid-19.

At the time of writing this blog, 4,501 people have been tested in England, of which 4,492 were confirmed negative and nine were confirmed as positive. Yet despite this data, and accepting that the UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk to the public from low to moderate, the risk of catching this illness in the UK remains low. Indeed for many, the worry that they might have the virus is as contagious as the illness itself – hence pharmacists reporting in the media that face masks and hand sanitising gel are now in short supply.

The network of 11,500 community pharmacies are uniquely placed to provide assurance and guidance to citizens who are concerned about whether or not they have the illness and to help the vast majority who are not infected stay that way. I have been very impressed with some of the accounts PSNC has received over the past few days, and the preparation that community pharmacy is making in case the situation becomes worse: looking at how patients might need to be redirected in the event of the pharmacy closing; and hygiene precautions for handling money and prescriptions etc.

The fact is that community pharmacy is already picking up patients concerned about Covid-19 who have been displaced from general practice. This has added to the burden of other current activities which have already eaten away at the capacity released from the decommissioning of Medicines Use Reviews which NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) hoped would give the sector the time it needed to conduct the pilots and services outlined in the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework over the next four years. Activities such as increased time in sourcing medicines, the burden of trying to make Primary Care Networks actually ‘work’, and the additional Pharmacy Quality Scheme requirements for 2019/20 are all having an impact on pharmacy workloads. This at a time when over 10,600 community pharmacies are participating in the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS), and after only 15 weeks are fielding more and more referrals from NHS 111.

So what are front-line pharmacies telling us? Here are just some of the messages we have received over the past few days:

“Significant increase in referrals through CPCS. (Too busy to quantify just now….);”

“We have a significant increase in workload;”

“Feeling the stress;”

“Lot of people are scared and confused. Asking for masks and sanitiser; we have no hand sanitiser;”

“Overall we are just busier than this time last week.”

It shows that once again community pharmacies are picking up the overspill from elsewhere in the health system and providing the safety net for the NHS. Once again, the NHS is relying on the clinical skills of community pharmacy. Once again, across the country, pharmacists are giving advice to increasing numbers of patients, and are doing so safely, effectively and without complaint about the lack of funding for these conversations. The Consultation Service together with ongoing challenges for the NHS including the potential looming crisis of Covid-19 makes a clear, coherent and compelling case for the vital role of community pharmacy in primary care. Patient footfall confirms this: as the numbers of visits to community pharmacy slowly but surely creeps from 1.6 million to two million people per day, our value to the NHS cannot be underestimated.

At its February meeting, the PSNC Committee discussed what we as a sector need to do to capture this value, and we will be working more closely and collaboratively with other pharmacy bodies to make the best possible business case for the additional investment we need to meet the demands of our patients. Our front-line deserves nothing less.

More New Blog Posts >