Chief Executive’s blog: January 2019

Chief Executive’s blog: January 2019

“Our commissioner recognises the skills of community pharmacists”

By PSNC Chief Executive Simon Dukes

Last week saw the publication of the much-anticipated NHS Long Term Plan, and for community pharmacy, if you are to believe the media reports, some good news and some uncertainty.

The first piece of good news is that community pharmacy gets more than one mention – this has not always been the case with big picture NHS planning documents. NHS England’s statement that it will “work with Government to make greater use of community pharmacists’ skills and opportunities to engage patients” is perhaps the biggest positive; it shows that our commissioner recognises the skills of community pharmacists and wants to make better use of them.

The plan talks about referring patients from NHS 111 directly to pharmacies and this workstream will also include a pilot of GP referrals to pharmacies. Taken together, these represent a move towards community pharmacies becoming the key healthcare location for people with minor conditions – this is a role we have been calling for and one which we must embrace. The plan also states that community pharmacists will be used to offer more tests such as blood pressure checks; again, this is a role we have asked for and must show that we can deliver.

The question now is how we achieve all of this, and of course this means some difficult conversations about how we free up pharmacists’ time to allow them to offer these services (whether through using technology or enhancing the skills of the wider pharmacy team) and how we pay for them in an environment in which there is no more money (including considering the number of pharmacies that the NHS currently pays for). We also need to upskill both our pharmacists and their teams. All of which is what NHS England is likely referring to when it talks about ‘exploring efficiencies’.

Since the publication of the plan, Minister Steve Brine has confirmed that the reference to reform of reimbursement and wider supply arrangements means his Department will take forward reforms that they had agreed to previously, and which PSNC supports. They include making changes to reimbursement for ‘non Part VIII’ and Category M products; changes to the Margin Survey; and ‘splitting the discount’. We hope that this commitment means that NHS England are looking to improve systems which pharmacy has been unhappy with for some time, and along with the Minister’s confirmation that he is seeking to renegotiate the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework, will all help to move community pharmacy in the direction that we want.

The Long Term Plan also talks about ‘clinical pharmacists’ which have been a source of contention in the past, with some asking what makes pharmacists working in GP practices more ‘clinical’ than other pharmacists? NHS England, our customer, is committed to these pharmacists and to increasing their numbers, and so our strategy will be to try to find ways to make this work for us; ultimately we want to try to get community pharmacists doing some of what the NHS has designated the ‘clinical’ roles, alongside their many other patient facing services.

So I hope that you will begin the year feeling positive about the Long Term Plan and what it could mean for community pharmacy. That is not to say that the coming years are going to be easy – there will be much change for community pharmacies which will be challenging; and we will need to prove at each stage that we are ready and competent to deliver what comes next. But I think with the commitments set out in the plan and the community pharmacy organisations working closely together to help you and LPCs to deliver it, we can afford a little optimism.

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