This year NHS England has promoted two campaigns encouraging people to visit their pharmacist for early health advice when they feel unwell. As far as I know this is unprecedented.
The campaigns aim to address winter pressures on the urgent care system by raising public awareness of community pharmacies as the place to go with common health problems. It has been developed in response the findings of NHS England’s review into urgent and emergency care.
Our own research on common ailment services shows that outcomes for patients treated at community pharmacies are just as good as for those treated at A&E or by GPs. Pharmacy treatment is also much less expensive with an estimated cost saving of £1.1bn to the NHS if all common ailments were to be treated at community pharmacies.
A major issue that emerged from the evaluation of the first NHS England campaign, called Earlier, Better, was that the target audience of over 60s and carers aged 45 plus did not understand that a minor illness can develop into something more serious in older people. They also did not want to seek help for what they thought was a minor illness because they felt it was a waste of time for a pharmacist or other health professional.
The second campaign, ‘Feeling under the Weather’ aims to increase public understanding that it’s important to get advice quickly for health problems and that they are not wasting a pharmacist’s time by doing so.
I’m determined that pharmacists should play a greater role when it comes to urgent and emergency care.
This includes providing the right advice and treatment through a nationwide common ailment service and employing pharmacists directly within teams in A&E. These measures would undoubtedly relieve pressure on the rest of the NHS not just during the winter months but all year round whilst maximising pharmacists’ clinical skills.
There’s a real momentum growing about how to better integrate pharmacists into the NHS. As well as NHS England, the Royal College of GPs and the College of Emergency Medicine agree with us that pharmacists have a huge amount to contribute to improving urgent care.
The alternative is unthinkable – to remain exactly as we are, doing the same as we’ve always done. The NHS is changing and at last, pharmacists are centre stage.