Community pharmacy has a clear role in promoting and supporting the public’s health. There’s an accessible workforce of approximately 42,990 registered pharmacists, 19,311 registered pharmacy technicians and thousands of Health Champions working in pharmacies in England, available during extended opening hours and connecting with individuals on a regular basis.1
Since October 2017, the number of accredited Healthy Living Pharmacies (HLPs) has increased to over 9474 (over 80% of all pharmacies) with the scheme incentivised with an NHS England Quality Payment.2
Community pharmacies across the country are engaging in regular, proactive health campaigns on key local health issues and making every contact count. We continue to deliver health and wellbeing services, such as the NHS Flu Vaccination Service. During the 2017/18 flu season, 8.987 (77.1% of all community pharmacies in England) pharmacies administered 1,344,462 flu vaccinations to patients with an average of 150 per pharmacy.3 In addition, many thousands of people not eligible for the NHS vaccination also received their flu jab privately from pharmacists in the community where they live or work.
We have for many years been commissioned to provide a wide range of public health services and advice, including, but not limited to, smoking cessation, weight management, NHS Health Checks, emergency hormonal contraception, sexual health screening, substance misuse services and alcohol interventions. However, there is increasing evidence that pharmacy is currently being under-utilised, and some services are being actively decommissioned in light of local authority funding cuts. Challenges that must be overcome to better use this highly qualified workforce include raising awareness of what pharmacy can do with both commissioners and the public; dedicating resources to further engagement, training and provision of appropriate facilities, and involving pharmacy at a strategic level on local health and wellbeing boards.
I have been inspired by the energy and commitment of many pharmacy teams across the country who make a difference to their community’s health. They are passionate about the area they live and work in, and care deeply about the customers they see on a regular basis. We must look at how community pharmacy is more fully integrated into the health system to optimise the role we can play, with more formal referral pathways avoiding unnecessary GP visits.
Prevention is the key to the future of the NHS; however, to realise this we need a radical shift in how we view and approach health and healthcare. Next time you are one of the 95% of people who visit a community pharmacy at least once a year, take a look beyond the medicines counter and the dispensed prescriptions. We do so much more.
What can we do together to reduce premature mortality from preventable disease using pharmacy in the heart of the community?
3 Building Capacity: realising the potential of community pharmacy assets for improving the public’s health Royal Society for Public Health and Public Health England