We must step up to the plate

The Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer at NHS England looks at the role for pharmacists in the leadership of Primary Care Networks:

The NHS Long Term Plan makes very clear its intention to ensure we make the most of the pharmacy workforce by playing to its strengths and investing in sustainable models of practice.

Central to this vision is the investment that will fund expanded community multidisciplinary teams aligned with new primary care networks (PCNs) based on neighbouring GP practices that work together, typically covering 30-50,000 people. Expanded neighbourhood teams will comprise a range of staff, and pharmacy professionals need to ensure they are truly embedded within those teams.

From 2019, subject to contractual negotiation, the Digital Minor Illness Referral Service may be extended and NHS 111 could start referring patients with minor illnesses on to all community pharmacies to support urgent care.

Also this year, with further Pharmacy Integration Fund money, we will start testing the referral of patients with minor illnesses from GP practices to community pharmacy in several PCN areas. For the first time this outlines a real commitment to community pharmacy in enhancing their role in urgent and emergency care and treating minor illnesses, all possible because of the evidence produced from pilots run through the Pharmacy Integration Fund.

Building on the models of placing clinical pharmacists in GP practices and care homes, the NHS Long Term Plan will see a huge expansion of the pharmacy workforce in PCNs, and with funding becoming recurrent these posts will be sustainable and able to really establish clinical pharmacy as an essential element of the local health economy.

Patients will get used to seeing a pharmacist within their local GP practice, in the same way as they now consider practice nurses as indispensable members of their local surgery team. It will be up to these pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to prove their worth, not only in terms of direct patient contact but also through establishing efficient, co-operative and integrated links with their colleagues in community pharmacy and hospital pharmacies.

There is more than enough work for everyone, and it will be through working together, getting to know their colleagues, and ensuring that patients see the most appropriate pharmacy professional at the right time, that we will be able to really live medicines optimisation.

We will need local pharmacy leaders to step up and play their part in leadership of the PCN, Sustainability and transformation partnerships (STP) and Integrated care systems (ICS) architecture as it becomes established. We will also need individual pharmacy professionals to hone their skills and make sure they have the right competencies to undertake the new roles being asked of them.

We should ask ourselves, in what other industry does the customer fund the training of its contractors and providers? – and take advantage of the training opportunities available. Critically we need to see those skills being applied consistently so that no one is in any doubt that pharmacy can deliver.

The NHS Long Term Plan provides us with an opportunity that we haven’t seen since the advent of clinical pharmacy in hospitals. Ultimately, we will be successful, not by working in individual silos, but working together as a network and stepping up to the plate.

Dr Bruce Warner

Dr Bruce Warner works closely with the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer on the strategic and operational development of medicines policy for NHS England. Prior to this post, Bruce worked as Deputy Director of Patient Safety at the NPSA and in NHS England where he led on the strategy for patient safety improvement and headed up the patient safety advice and guidance function.

Bruce has worked in most sectors of pharmacy including community, hospital, academia and at a PCG/T. He is also a visiting Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the University of Huddersfield.