Eastern Eye (UK)
Javid: Pharmacists can help ease GPs’ pressure
EX-HEALTH SECRETARY SAYS COMMUNITY EXPERTS CAN ASSIST WITH BETTER PRIMARY CARE
FORMER health secretary Sajid Javid has called for pharmacies to have a “bigger role” in primary care, after their crucial part in delivering the Covid vaccine.
More than 22 million jabs were administered by community pharmacy-led Covid vaccination sites in the 12 months up to January 2022.
The NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) also highlighted a 50 per cent increase in the number of pharmacies delivering Covid boosters, compared from October 2021 to January 2022.
“The 35 million Omicron vaccine boosters that were delivered within five-six weeks wouldn’t have happened without all the community pharmacies,” Javid on Monday (27) told a panel discussion hosted by the Policy Exchange in London, titled What Is The Future For Vaccines Policy?
“There’s over 11,000 community pharmacies in England and 90 per cent of the population are within 20 minutes walking distance of a community pharmacy. Just think how accessible that is.
“It was only later in the Covid pandemic, obviously, there was a lot learning on the job, but we realised the power of all these pharmacies and the pharmacists to deliver these vaccines and their trusted relationship with the community.”
In January, the health and social care secretary, Steve Barclay, told parliament he wanted to work with community pharmacists in ‘tackling barriers to offer more services’ from the sector.
“As we look to the future and how you deliver vaccines, pharmacies have to be a crucial part of that, there’s not any other way to do it,” said Javid.
“Pharmacies can deliver vaccines themselves, but they can play a bigger role in primary care in general. When I was in the department, I developed a plan called Pharmacy First, which would see pharmacies playing a bigger role, including prescribing certain drugs, including antibiotics.
“You might think, ‘what’s the connection between all of that and delivering vaccinations?’ If pharmacists can take away some of the workload from GPs, then it releases GPs to focus on those things that only they can do.
“During the pandemic we found GPs were the best people to go into care homes, for example, because the GP had that relationship with the patients.”
Javid explained that by pharmacists relieving some of the pressure on GPs, it would benefit the whole sector, including in the delivery of vaccinations. However, pharmacies have their own set of pressures to contend with. Government figures reveal that community pharmacies have seen a £790 million realterms funding cut over five years.
Between 2015 and 2022, some 40 per cent community pharmacies closed in 20 per cent of the most deprived areas of England, with a recent study revealing that over 90 per cent of pharmacies are experiencing staff shortages.
English Pharmacy board chair and a community pharmacist, Thorrun Govind, told the panel the pandemic showed how “undervalued” community pharmacy is by health authorities. “In terms of Covid-19 and the flu, we’ve seen our pharmacy teams almost begging to get involved with those efforts,” Govind recalled. It was a little bit of a struggle at the start to get them involved, but we’ve seen the success, haven’t we?
“We’ve seen health inequalities being tackled, because people know they can walk to their local community pharmacy for the vaccine, but it’s becoming a struggle because we’ve got pharmacies closing down due to underfunding.”
Govind urged health authorities to tap the reach of pharmacists in not just future vaccination programmes, but also clinical services.
“We’ve got community pharmacies, we’ve got those in general practice. We’ve got primary care networks, and we’ve got hospital hubs as well. This is a whole team NHS effort,” she said. “Vaccination is remarkable, because we all work together as one when it comes to vaccination. What we’re calling for is a continued, concerted effort to reduce health inequalities, to increase the uptake and increased coverage of vaccinations.
“And that means community pharmacies are key to being able to offer not just the flu and Covid shots, but also other services that we’ve just mentioned.”
There are an estimated 61,140 pharmacists in the UK and a further 24,928 pharmacy technicians.
Govind said community pharmacies have an advantage over other health care providers as their staff are often familiar with patients.
“People who work in community pharmacies tend to be from the local community and they tend to speak the same languages as the local community. They know the heart of the issues of the local community,” she said.
“People often just come in for a chat, sometimes, and actually that’s one of our key benefits because we know what’s going on with people and can provide better support.”
Javid urged the government to learn from the pandemic and prepare for any similar events in the future. He said it was crucial that organisations worked together and shared data.
“Before the pandemic, something like 10 per cent per cent of adults had the NHS app. By the time we were confronting Omicron, something like 60 per cent had it,” said Javid.
“It played a very important role in terms of whether your making appointments, checking your vaccinations.
“We mustn’t let something like that go, because it’s got a much wider applicability than just vaccination. When it comes to vaccination in general, we have over a dozen to prevent certain diseases, the sharing of that data can play a very important role as well.”