Phoenix group managing director Steve Anderson has said community pharmacies must be equipped with “fair and sustainable funding” if they are to see patients who are unable to access a GP and urged the government to invest in the workforce to address shortages of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.
Mr Anderson (pictured) told Independent Community Pharmacist that GPs were being told to postpone or cancel routine check-ups so they can continue administering Covid vaccinations and insisted although that might keep Covid-related hospital admissions down, it could see people ending up there because of heart attacks, strokes and cancer. He said that scenario could be avoided through early screening in pharmacies.
“If GPs, understandably, cannot provide such early screening then rather than drop them for at-risk groups, why not look to other professional healthcare providers such as community pharmacy to undertake this role? These checks are vital and well within the professional competency of community pharmacy,” Mr Anderson said.
“It is clear that our 'GP-first for every healthcare concern you may have' approach simply cannot cope with the volume, depth and breadth of patient demand. It has been tested to destruction. We have too few GPs per head of population, many existing GPs are reaching retirement age with others leaving due to the stress of incredible and unrelenting workload pressures.”
He said pharmacies should be supported to see patients through a Pharmacy First-type service as seen in Scotland but warned the government needed to fund pharmacies properly and challenged ministers to invest in the community pharmacy workforce to address what he described as “an acute shortage of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.”
“We need to radically rethink how we provide people with the right care at the right time in the right setting with the most appropriate healthcare professional. That means embracing fully the potential of community pharmacy and as the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, recently said, adopting a 'pharmacy first' approach,” Mr Anderson said.
“Those are welcome words but they need to be backed up by fair and sustainable funding and an investment in relieving current workforce capacity problems. Community pharmacy wants to provide more patient services and is ideally placed to do so, trusted by the public and accessible in every locality, yet it faces an acute shortage of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.
“This is a situation which will only get worse as PCNs/health boards ramp up their efforts to recruit those qualified professionals into paid NHS roles. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is a zero sum game in terms of improving patient care.”
Mr Anderson also said integrated care systems and their boards have so far produced mixed progress across England, with ICSs in some parts of the country “embracing community pharmacy but not in others.” He warned that could see “a continuation of postcode lottery provision with Joe Public confused about when they should see their local pharmacist rather than their GP.”
Insisting the pharmacy contract “lacks imagination, is no longer relevant to today’s patient needs and is economically illiterate,” he said referrals through the community pharmacist consultation service is “a welcome development but ill-thought through.”
“Pharmacy will be paid for a referral but not for a walk-in for the same condition. Therefore, if the pharmacy provides an outstanding service and the patient’s condition recurs surely, they will go straight to the pharmacist rather than their GP,” he said.
“If they do that then no fee for the pharmacy. As it stands, the contract does not reward pharmacies for outstanding performance.
“Covid should be a game changer for the provision of healthcare. GP telephone and video triage is here to stay, like it or not, and pharmacy also needs to adopt virtual triage, but its USP must be acting as the necessary physical intervention gateway which may then lead to further healthcare support.”