Boots will soon launch its first paid-for mental health treatment service to help with the rising number of people waiting for NHS treatment, the multiple’s chief pharmacist has told The Pharmaceutical Journal.
In an exclusive interview with The Pharmaceutical Journal, published on 27 January 2022, Marc Donovan said the online mental health service will provide patients with a mixture of talking therapy and access to medicines, where appropriate.
Donovan added that it would be provided via Boots’ ‘Online Doctor’ service, which enables patients to pay for prescription-only medicines, following a consultation with one of a team of pharmacist independent prescribers, nurse prescribers and GPs for a range of conditions.
In October 2020, the Centre for Mental Health estimated that up to 10 million people will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Donovan said the Boots service was developed to meet demand from patients and ease pressure on the NHS.
“As I’m sure many people will know, it’s hard to access mental health support through the NHS at the moment, and the demand is huge, so we feel that we can help patients navigate some of the mental health demands that they have,” he said.
“The availability of that kind of service — we’ve demonstrated that it has alleviated some of the pressure from the NHS by taking non-complex healthcare interventions away from GP surgeries,” he added.
“That’s something that the NHS is desperate to have happen.
“While we are exploring a private set of services, we want to be able to demonstrate to the NHS that community pharmacy has a wider role to play in providing prescribing services and treating minor ailments,” he continued, adding that he would like to see the progress in the use of pharmacist independent prescribing in 2022.
Boots began expanding its ‘Online Doctor’ service in June 2021, with patients now able to access treatments for more than 30 conditions and 11 testing services, including treatments for asthma for up to £158 for two inhalers, hormone replacement therapy at a cost of up to £150 and adrenaline auto-injectors for up to £99 for two pens.
It is not yet clear how much the mental health service will cost.
When asked whether the mental health service would be based on issuing prescriptions or take the form of an app, Donovan said it would be “a mixture of both”.
“Primarily, it will be counselling support apps, management of people’s mental wellbeing, and certainly not in the complex areas. However, through regular contact with a prescriber, there may well be some solutions that would result in prescribing of some medication. But that’s not first-line and that’s not what the service is designed for.”
Donovan confirmed that the service would follow the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance on prescribing interventions, with all interventions overseen by a prescribing pharmacist or doctor.
His comments follow a government refusal to disclose information relating to the launch of a national NHS-funded minor ailments service for community pharmacy, which inferred that a policy on the service is being developed.
The chief pharmacist also told The Pharmaceutical Journal that he could not guarantee that there would be no further Boots pharmacy closures, as the multiple confirmed nearly all 200 stores earmarked for closure in 2019 had permanently shut.
On discussions around pharmacy apprenticeships, Donovan added that, despite being in the employer group developing proposals, he is “not convinced that this is the right thing for pharmacy”.