Community pharmacy should play an important part in delivering a new approach to urgent and emergency care by freeing up capacity in other parts of the health service, NHS England’s National Medical Director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh has said.

Sir Keogh, who is currently carrying out a review into urgent and emergency care, made the comments while voicing support for findings of an independent report commissioned by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), which proposes a much wider role for pharmacists in treating and advising patients.

Now or Never: shaping pharmacy for the future, stresses the need for a radical shift in the role of pharmacists in England towards improving care in the community, expanding their remit to treating many common illnesses and supporting patients with long-term conditions.

The report, chaired by Nuffield Trust Director of Policy Judith Smith, has concluded that pharmacists are marginalised within the NHS and in health policy, and warns NHS England, the Department of Health and pharmacy leaders - including the RPS - that there must be a united effort to address this.

The authors assert that unless the pharmacy focus is shifted from the 'mere' supply of medicines towards the provision of a broader service, the NHS will be letting down taxpayers and patients by missing opportunities to do more for less.

Easing the burden?

Increasing pharmacists' care-giving roles could ease demand on GPs, out-of-hours and hospital services, as well as improve access and care for patients and free up capacity within the health service, which could place it in much better stead to cope with the unprecedented financial climate while meeting demand, the report argues.

Pharmacists should be working hand-in-hand with other healthcare professionals in joint teams and networks to provide large-scale new services, it says, but also stresses that there will be no new cash for the pharmacy profession so change must be driven with the better use of existing funds.

Pharmacists have "far more to offer than the public or many people in the NHS understand," says Smith, but noted that "all too often their potential is going untapped, and this must change if the NHS is to be able to assure taxpayers that people are being supported to get the best use out of their medicines and pharmacies".

Commenting on the report, NHS England said it again demonstrates "the clear consensus across the clinical community that much more can be done in patients’ own communities to keep them healthy, intervene early in any potential problems, and avoid the crises that lead to emergency hospital admission, especially for the growing number of people who suffer from a number of different long-term conditions".