The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has called for community pharmacy services to be included in existing care and referral pathways in a new draft quality standard.

The organisation says that the move will allow community pharmacy teams to accept as well as make referrals to the service most appropriate for the person.

NICE is urging patients to discuss their health and wellbeing with community pharmacy teams, where they can ask for information and advice about smoking, alcohol or maintaining a healthy weight.

“Community pharmacists engage every day with people who buy over-the-counter medicines, collect prescriptions or ask for advice. This is a vital opportunity to support people to maintain good health but also signpost them to other health services,” explained Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care.

She continued, “Integrating community pharmacies into local care and referral pathways, will offer people effective, convenient and easily accessible services, reduce duplication of work and relieve pressure on the wider health and social care system.”

The quality standard acknowledges that many community pharmacists have good relationships with the local population and an understanding of the physical, economic and social challenges some individuals face.

It also suggests that this knowledge could be used to support the most vulnerable members of the community and help to reduce health inequalities, for example providing information tailored to a specific audience, such as in a different language.

NICE says that the advice supports targets set out in the NHS’ Long Term Plan to make greater use of community pharmacists’ skills and opportunities to engage patients.