Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Doing the right thing for patients

by Sandra Gidley, RPS President

I’ve always felt that community pharmacists should be able to make changes to a prescription, when a medicine is unavailable, without going back to the prescriber. In fact, I’m old enough to recall the days when this was routine and was sorted out with the local GP.

It makes life easier for everyone. Patients get the medicines they need, GPs don’t have their time wasted with bureaucracy and, most importantly, pharmacists are trusted to use their professional discretion.

That’s what we called for on Monday and lots of you have said you agree.

Many of you have said it’s about time and have pointed out that for hospital pharmacists this is a matter of routine.

I work as a locum and I know how hard pharmacists and their teams have been working on the frontline during COVID-19. I know there are still challenges, such as around protecting staff, managing workload, and present and future funding. We’re continuing to raise these issues with governments and NHS leaders.

We’re also starting to think about what the next few months and beyond might mean for the profession and the role of pharmacists in supporting the NHS in a ‘new normal’ of COVID-19. We’re keen to hear your ideas.

One of the positive things we’ve seen is a renewed sense of pharmacists feeling able to use their professional judgement to deliver safe care and put patients first. This has been backed by the regulators.

Professional autonomy is vital and we need to build on some of the gains we have made during the current crisis. With the Government reviewing the longer-term impact on the medicines supply chain, pharmacists will be central to supporting patient access to appropriate treatment. Our proposed changes would help. It already happens in Scotland. Pharmacists in hospitals do this all the time.

Other changes are long-overdue, not least joining up patient records across the health service.

When pharmacists treat a patient, wherever they may be, they should have the information they need and be able to update a clinical record with what they’ve done. For example, refusal of an OTC opioid may flag up a problem to a busy GP. Successive health ministers have said they want to get this sorted. Now is the time to make it happen across the UK.

COVID-19 means the whole of the health service will have to think about doings things differently and we need to make greater use of pharmacists’ clinical skills as part of the NHS family. We are fighting for better integration across care settings and the need to have pharmacists involved at an early stage of decision-making, and not as an afterthought.

You can read more about this as part of some initial thoughts we’ve shared with the Health Select Committee for its inquiry into ‘what next’ for the health service. Our recent evidence to a committee in Wales also covered similar themes and the Scottish Parliament will be looking at this too.

With many changes made to pharmacy practice so pharmacists can care for patients safely, we want you to tell us what has been for the better, and what else could transform the future of pharmacy practice.

We’ve had a great response to our survey so far and I’ll be speaking to country board chairs about how we move forwards on a Facebook live at 1pm on Friday 22 May. Please join us and join in the debate

As policymakers think about what the future landscape might mean for pharmacy and the NHS, your answers and ideas can really make a difference.

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Your dedication and commitment during the pandemic has been exceptional.

As we brace for a potential second wave of coronavirus, we know that pharmacy will be at the forefront of delivering healthcare.

Whether it’s flu vaccinations, dealing with local lockdowns or getting ready to fight a second wave, we need decisions and assurances from the Government now. We must make sure pharmacists get enough supplies of PPE and rapid access to testing in all care settings.

If the enormous mental and physical strain of the past few months is repeated ahead of this winter, the health service will be on its knees. We will be there to make sure pharmacists get mental health and wellbeing support.

We will continue to work hard to give you the tools and guidance to do your job safely. And fight to make sure you get the recognition you deserve.

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