Ministers are planning an investigation into factors that are in danger of holding back pharmacy and its intention to develop clinical and public health services in the new-look National Health Service. 

Addressing the All-Party Pharmacy Group's (APPG) summer reception and AGM yesterday (Monday) afternoon, Chair Kevin Barron MP announced a new workstream, to kick off after parliament's summer recess, that is heavily focused on identifying and overcoming the barriers to progress in the field.

The group, he said, will be looking into the potential barriers created by the new commissioning system, funding and contractual arrangements, inter-professional tension, regulation or lack of it, public perception and within the profession itself.

A number of evidence sessions are planned to help investigate each of these areas, as well as identify others that need to be addressed to help pharmacy overcome its challenges.

In addition, the APPG will look "urgently" at decriminalising dispensing errors. This issue has been unresolved for years, Barron said, noting that pharmacy is "the only profession that can run the risk of imprisonment for one wrong prescription".

Barron also revealed that the Group will be undertaking an "audit on the new NHS landscape and how it interacts with pharmacy".

With regard to current hot potato of medicines shortages, he noted that ministers will maintain pressure on the government "to take effective action on the issue," which he stressed is "very distressing for patients".

Also speaking at the reception, health minster Earl Howe welcomed the APPG's report on the medicines shortages (published earlier this year), which included proposals on how to help rectify the situation, but would only say that the government is currently "carefully considering" its recommendations.

Challenges and opportunities

In general, Lord Howe said there were indeed challenges for pharmacy in the year ahead, given all the changes in the National Health Service, but stressed that there will also be "a whole heap of opportunities" for the profession.

One area he did place great emphasis on is that medicines optimisation. Until now, medicines management has focused cost. "But this is no longer enough, there must now be a focus on value," he said.

The National Health Service Commissioning Board will ultimately be responsible for medicines optimisation, but the area will play an increasing role in the future and pharmacy will play a leading role in this, through initiatives like the New Medicines Service (NMS), he said.

With the NMS pharmacists are striving to improve treatment outcomes for patients with long-term conditions through improving medicines adherence, as well as reduce medicines waste and cut down hospital admissions due to adverse events.