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Community pharmacies ‘underutilised’ in public health

A new report published by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and Public Health England (PHE) has found that pharmacies believe that they are being underutilised when they have far more to offer to support public health.

The report, 'Building Capacity', based on research conducted in early 2016, examined the extent to which community pharmacy teams are supporting the public’s health while evaluating opportunities and challenges they face.

The report found that almost three-quarters of respondents from across the nation’s almost 12,000 pharmacies overall believed that the sector was being underutilised, with respondents from the nation’s 2,100 Healthy Living Pharmacies (HLPs) believing this less than respondents from non–HLPs.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of RSPH, explained that while it was encouraging that pharmacies have a “clear appetite” to support the public’s health, challenges for pharmacies do exist which prevent them from doing so, particularly at the commissioning stage.  

“It is in the interests of the public’s health that pharmacy’s role and contribution is recognised by all parts of the local health system and we’d support initiatives aimed at increasing collaboration, particular with GPs and giving greater prominence to pharmacy on local Health and Wellbeing Boards,” Cramer said.

“Continued action is also required to persuade the public that their local community pharmacy is the default first port of call for many lifestyle health services, so that we can reduce pressure on GP or local hospital services, particularly ahead of anticipated winter pressures on the NHS.”

Pharmacy teams identified opportunities for them to be better used given their variety in opening hours and locations, the trust placed in pharmacies – on a par with nurses, opticians and dentists – and their involvement in screening and treating conditions such as type 2 diabetes and the cessation of smoking.

However, respondents also believed that they suffered from insufficient staff numbers, training and facilities (51%); a lack of representation on their local Health and Wellbeing Board; and even resistance from GPs on being commissioned to provide services (30%), particularly in relation to the flu vaccination.

Pharmacies also cited a lack of public awareness of the services they provide, with only around half of the public aware of offers like NHS Health Checks and most people preferring to visit a GP due to the more thorough examination and greater connectivity of the service.

Jonathan McShane, chair of the Pharmacy and Public Health Forum (PPHF), said: “It's time to stop talking about the potential of community pharmacy in relation to public health and start seizing the opportunities.

“This report sets out not just what more pharmacy can do but also the barriers that currently prevent us from making the most of the community pharmacy network consistently across the country.”

The report recommended for commissioners to recognise pharmacy as a ‘local health asset’, making more visits to pharmacies to increase their understanding of pharmacy.

It also suggested that each community pharmacy should have at least one ‘health champion’ and greater communication and integration between community pharmacy teams and GPs.

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