A new strategy for community pharmacy is essential to realising its full potential at the heart of community care, claims a report by New NHS Alliance.

The NHS needs clinical pharmacists within general practice, urgent care and out of hours, nursing homes and many other multidisciplinary teams. But, the paper argues, the health service also needs clinical pharmacists within a community pharmacy setting and a strategy for community pharmacy to deliver its potential.

Noting the absence of a community pharmacy led new model of care and the failure of the NHS to fully utilise the expertise of local pharmacists within their locations, the group's co-chair, Dr Mark Spencer, said: "We must recognise community pharmacy as a professional clinical retail healthcare environment and as an integral member of the primary care team".

Currently there are around 11,700 'high-street' pharmacies in England alone. "We must also recognise the pharmacy's unique position within the community and their ability to reduce demand within general practice as part of the solution to the crisis within general practice," he noted.

Aside from commissioning a new pharmacy led model of care, the report also urges GPs to support community pharmacy as the first point of call for patients with acute self-limiting conditions and minor ailments, both as commissioners and partners in delivery.

Also, family doctors, community pharmacy representatives and government should work together to reclassify medicines and reconsider NHS reimbursement, GPs should also identify situations where, once the diagnosis has been made the complete care of that condition can be transferred to the community pharmacy under an agreed treatment protocol, and there should be plans in place to help pharmacists deliver public health messages and related services in their areas.

These moves could help reduce some of the burden on over-stretched primary care services, better tackle the root cause of some illnesses, and potentially give patients more control over their care.

The government has already said it wants to better integrate community pharmacy into primary care, but it has also handed down a six percent cut in funding, which means that around or £170 million less will be available through the contractual framework.

As a consequence of this, the Local Government Association has warned that community pharmacies are at risk of going out of business, which could potentially pull the plug on a vital lifeline for many elderly and vulnerable patients.

Around 1.6 million people visit pharmacies every day for treatment and advice.