Campaign to encourage pharmacy use ‘irresponsible and extremely unhelpful’, says negotiator

NHS England's 'Help Us Help You' campaign will use film themes to encourage people to visit community pharmacies for minor illnesses.
janet morrison

An advertising campaign intended to encourage more people to visit pharmacies for minor illnesses has been called “irresponsible and extremely unhelpful” by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC).

The NHS England campaign, Help Us Help You‘ will feature a series of “movie-inspired” advertisements on catch-up TV services, online video, radio and social media, with titles including ‘The earache strikes back’, ‘Sore throat and the lost voice’, and ‘Night of the itchy eye’.

It follows a similar movie poster campaign, which was launched in January 2020.

A statement from Janet Morrison, chief executive of the PSNC, said: “[It is] deeply concerning to see campaigns directing people to pharmacies without any regard for the pressures they are under: it is irresponsible and extremely unhelpful.”

She added that the ‘Help Us Help You’ campaign was “particularly irritating just weeks after we rejected a series of proposals from NHS England and Department of Health and Social Care on relief measures to ease pressure on pharmacies as being totally inadequate”.

Morrison said that while community pharmacies “are the obvious first port of call for healthcare advice” such a service must be fully funded.

Malcolm Harris, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, said that funding cuts to the community pharmacy sector meant that “there is now a very real risk that when patients visit a pharmacy, they will be faced by exhausted teams and longer than expected waiting times”.

“The NHS policy of asking patients to visit their local pharmacy does not address the problem of delays to access in primary care, it simply moves it from one pressurised location to another,” he added.

“The NHS must address the chronic underfunding of primary care, and of pharmacy in particular, if patients are to be able to access the care they need and should rightly expect.”

In a press release, NHS England said the campaign followed results of a new poll, which showed that just one in five people aged 18–40 years would visit their local pharmacy first for expert advice on a minor illness.

It said the campaign is “one of several campaigns aimed at drawing attention to the importance of accessing the most appropriate NHS service when patients are in need”.

Commenting in NHS England’s press release, published on 27 February 2023, David Webb, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, said: “Pharmacies can offer the convenience of turn up on the day consultations and can help you get any care needed, including over-the-counter medicines.

“So whether suffering from a cough, earache, itchy eye, or any other minor illness, popping into your local pharmacy is a great way to nip an issue in the bud before it potentially worsens.”

The launch of the advertising campaign comes days after almost 40 MPs and peers, in an effort coordinated by the PSNC, wrote to health secretary Steve Barclay to express their “deep and growing concern over the unprecedented pressures facing the community pharmacy sector in England”.

The MPs urged Barclay to work with community pharmacy “to create a fair and fit for purpose future funding model that … properly funds pharmacies for what they do” and called for a “fairly funded Pharmacy First service”.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, February 2023, Vol 310, No 7970;310(7970)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.176099

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