Expand and raise awareness of Pharmacy First, says Healthwatch England

The public is receptive to Pharmacy First but more needs to be done to increase awareness of and further develop pharmacy services, a new report from Healthwatch England finds.

The ‘Pharmacy: what people want‘ report, published today (30th April), calls on the Government to issue targeted communications to raise awareness of the Pharmacy First service, improve awareness and availability of prescription prepayment certificates to address prescription cost barriers, and undertake a review of the medicines supply chain to address shortages. In the longer term, Healthwatch would be keen to see further expansion of Pharmacy First and work to ensure IT systems used across primary care are interoperable, supporting urgent messaging to improve rapid back-channel communication between pharmacy and GP teams.

Conducted at the outset of Pharmacy First and informed by Community Pharmacy England, Healthwatch England’s research assessed public attitudes towards pharmacy. Not only do the findings demonstrate the positive patient perceptions of community pharmacy, but they also serve to highlight some barriers that need addressing.

The report presents several findings and recommendations for how Pharmacy First can reach its full potential. Significantly, it found that patients are receptive to Pharmacy First, with a high proportion of people already open to the idea of receiving advice and treatment from a pharmacy rather than a GP. Many people would also support the expansion of Pharmacy First to other conditions, although a small number would still need convincing to stop using their GP as a first port of call.

The many challenges facing community pharmacy are also covered in the report, including funding and capacity issues, medicines supply challenges and the need for better integration with other parts of the healthcare system. Healthwatch England calls for more support for pharmacy teams, particularly in terms of providing more investment and action on workforce shortages.

Healthwatch England hopes that this report will help support successful implementation of the Primary Care Recovery Plan and inform further expansion of pharmacy services.

Read the ‘Pharmacy: what people want’ report

Key findings from the report:

  • 72% of people have used a community pharmacy in the past three months, with 14% saying their last visit to a pharmacy was for advice about symptoms.
  • People value the accessibility of community pharmacies, both in terms of the ease of getting to one (43%) and the speed of being seen once there (56%).
  • For five of the seven clinical pathway conditions currently eligible for self-referral into the Pharmacy First service, people were more likely to go to a pharmacy rather than a GP. The exceptions were shingles and UTIs.
  • Over half of people said they would go to a pharmacy for vaccinations and dermatology services, but a small proportion of the population do not see pharmacy as their go-to primary care service.
  • Over 42% had experienced problems getting medicines from their pharmacy in the past 12 months, and almost a quarter (24%) experienced their pharmacy being out of stock of the medicines they needed in the same period. These issues were found to affect older people and women more significantly.
  • Some 5% of people said they had avoided taking up one or more NHS prescriptions because of the cost of NHS prescription charges.

Commenting on the report, Janet Morrison, Chief Executive, Community Pharmacy England, said:

“Patients are at the heart of everything that community pharmacies do and this Healthwatch England project has provided some valuable insights into patients’ perspectives. It is no surprise to hear of the positive patient views of Pharmacy First, nor to see how much patients are being impacted by medicines supply issues. Despite being in crisis, community pharmacies are working incredibly hard to protect their patients from the impact of these pressures.

“We have been pleased to support this important Healthwatch England work and endorse the report’s recommendations. Many of them align with our policy aims, including that Government must urgently undertake a full review of the medicines supply chain, and that sustainable funding for pharmacy is absolutely critical. We will continue to work collaboratively with Healthwatch England and other organisations as we seek to secure both sustainable funding and future service developments for community pharmacies.”

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