Chief Executive’s blog: July 2020

Chief Executive’s blog: July 2020

“More patients are regarding our sector differently”

By Chief Executive Simon Dukes

As I write this, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and his Treasury team are drawing-up plans to pull-back on Government spending for the remainder of the year and work out how to get the country out of its £2tn debt. However, bringing the economy onto an even keel isn’t just about cost-cutting, but also learning from the effects of COVID-19.

Behaviours have changed and more patients are regarding our sector differently. I was struck by the PAGB survey results released on 20th July which showed very clearly how patients now prefer to access their NHS in a post-Corona world. This included 31% who said they were now more likely to visit a pharmacy for advice before seeking help elsewhere.

These results chime with the preliminary findings from the PSNC Pharmacy Advice Audit conducted over July. We are still processing that data, but we are hugely grateful for the 9,500 (yes 9,500!) pharmacies that took part in the audit recording nearly 200,000 consultations. What has emerged very clearly from this data is that patients value the ability to access an NHS-contracted clinician within a short distance of their home (or place of work) at a time of their choosing, and to have a face-to-face consultation. This is the service that community pharmacy has provided throughout the pandemic and continues to do so. I thought I might share just three of the remarkable (yet typical) stories that we captured as part of the audit (names have obviously been changed).

Mike, who wanted to purchase an over the counter eyedrop for a swollen eye before going on holiday that day. The pharmacist insisted that he got the eye checked before going which he reluctantly agreed to do. Mike returned to the pharmacy a few weeks later to thank the pharmacist for saving his sight – it turned-out that he had a detached retina.

Elizabeth, who has learning difficulties and requested an emergency supply of antidepressants. On questioning, it emerged that she was being bullied by her neighbour who was stealing her medication leaving her without. Safeguarding procedures were enacted and following law enforcement intervention, it was discovered that the neighbour was also stealing her cash too. Following discussions with her GP Elizabeth’s prescription collections are now weekly.

Jenny who was asked to take her own blood pressure and provide the results over the phone to her GP. She was getting prescribed increasing (and new) doses of medication because the readings remained high. The pharmacist asked her to bring the machine to the pharmacy, where she realised that Jenny was providing readings in different units to the ones requested by the GP. Jenny was taught how to measure her blood pressure more accurately, advised to leave the new medication in the pharmacy, and informed her GP.

The pharmacy audit will be part of our efforts to push for a review and reset of the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework and an increase to the contract sum.

As a result of coronavirus, the demand for community pharmacy is greater than ever. Not just through NHS111, nor via GP surgeries, but from the street. PSNC is asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer to recompense community pharmacies appropriately for the hundreds of thousands of extra consultations that will now arise as a result of pandemic-related behaviour change amongst patients – consultations that otherwise will clog-up other parts of the health system. Moreover, we need the resilience of every pharmacy open for business: a COVID-19 recurrence across the UK is still to come – and may continue to recur for years; we will soon be entering the most critical flu season for decades; and on 31st December our transition period from the EU will end – possibly with significant medicines supply challenges.

Despite the Secretary of State’s warm words at the NPA conference the other week, my analysts tell me that we are now down to 11,400 community pharmacies in England. Without additional funding, the government he represents will be failing not just the dedicated people that staff our community pharmacies, but the patients like Mike, Elizabeth and Jenny who rely on their professionalism.

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