I’m part of the NHS, not just an accessory to it

21 Mar 2018

This year will see 70 years since the so-called ‘Appointed Day’, designated by the National Health Act of 1946. The National Health Service’s first day of operation. I find myself invited to take part in a local expert panel convened to discuss this momentous day and deliberate on the future of this great national institution.

My preparatory ruminating, invariably leading me to reflect on the present state of the NHS and the future of community pharmacy. The Beveridge report published in 1942 formed the basis for the creation of the National Health Service. It was a time of great political Statesmanship and conviction politics. Churchill, Attlee, Bevan, Wilson, Morrison and et al not to forget the indomitable Ellen Wilkinson. The political sparring and wrangling, deal-making, discontent, inpatient clamour and general public discussion around this in my opinion not matched by anything since.

The transformation the NHS brought, enabling everyone to access free healthcare with pharmaceutical services included. The pharmacy premises of that day are certainly a world removed from today but importantly people could access their local service and the expertise it offered. The narrative of community pharmacies evolution since the ‘Appointed day’ I would simply put as delivering efficiently what has always been asked of us.

Whilst like every other part of the healthcare system we have areas we can improve on, community pharmacy certainly delivers a great service. Our responsiveness, innovation and adaptability is nowhere more evident than in the independent pharmacy sector.

The story of the NHS even in those infancy days involves battling with the financial pressures and fighting to remain true to its core values. There were pragmatic decisions in the face of financial pressures as rebuilding during the post-war years demanded. Addressing competing societal needs and challenges meant rethinking how to do things but importantly embracing the ideas that enabled things to be done better. Community pharmacy has some ideas that will enable things to be done better and more cost-effectively.

I believe that the NHS in England should face up to its present challenges and look to address them without losing sight of what community pharmacy offers. There is no need to trawl through the financial and staffing pressures the NHS faces today.  Community pharmacy has accepted and delivered on the agenda set for us in time past. I am proud to see the approach the NPA is now taking, building on the campaign to save the community pharmacy network; it is now fighting to save the NHS by advocating for empowering community pharmacy to do more. It is ready to shape the agenda for good.

Community pharmacy is part of the NHS. We are not some adjunct service but a core stakeholder. . The vision unveiled in the Community Pharmacy Forward View shows that we have answers and ideas that can work. More importantly for a little bit of trust and confidence, we can demonstrate our ability to deliver. Our communities need us now more than ever. Many of themfeel forgotten and left behind, in what  some would call a wellbeing crisis.

Bedminster Pharmacy sits in a geographical position that helps me illustrate this point. We sit within line of sight which could also be viewed as a point of intersection for East Street, West Street and North Street locally. Yet within this close proximity, the populations in the three areas have very distinctive profiles and with some exception can present social, economic, health and lifestyle behavioural profiles that make generalisation possible. All these needs and challenges find a meeting point in our pharmacy like many others around the country. It is convoluted yet the unique expertise offered by only community pharmacy brings resolution.

Community pharmacy has always been the place where physical and mental health, social care, public health education and interventions, lifestyle and behavioural support, self-care promotion, medicines optimisation, minor ailments treatment, emergency health managing and signposting amongst many other things happen daily.

We must share our ideas broadly,  to our patients and local stakeholders.  Whilst also supporting the national efforts to influence policy. I support an integrated agenda with a start point of making use of  the expertise and unique abilities already now available and on offer in community pharmacy. We want to help write the prescription to treat our ailing health service. Let no one forget, we are part of the NHS and will work to make it  better for our patients.

Author: Ade Williams