Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer at NHS England, has expressed his regret for the difficulty that cuts to the community pharmacy budget have caused the profession, but insisted they should be regarded as a “watershed” moment for pharmacy.
In an exclusive interview with The
Pharmaceutical Journal, Ridge charted his vision for the future of community pharmacy after the £320m reduction in its funding, pointing to the successful scheme linking pharmacies up with NHS 111 and the development of a more “clinically orientated” workforce as signs of the direction of travel the whole sector will take.
Ridge was speaking before the Court of Appeal upheld a High Court ruling on 23 August 2018 that the cuts to funding imposed on community pharmacies in October 2016 were not unlawful.
Official figures show a fall in the number of high street pharmacies since the cuts were implemented in December 2016, but Ridge insisted that the fallout was not all negative. “I regret the pain it has caused. But I think people might look back on this when I have long gone and actually see this as a watershed moment.
“I’m sure many people won’t see it like that, but in history that might be how people look at it.”
He added: “In many ways it has also begun to stimulate real change in community pharmacy. It’s a bit more complex to say I regret it because I can now see good things coming out of this. The 111 referral service, the aspiration really to integrate pharmacy and pharmacists into the NHS, in many ways have flowed from what was obviously a very difficult period of time.”
Ridge also expressed his hope that all GP surgeries would eventually have access to a pharmacist, after an evaluation revealed they increase GP capacity, optimise medicines use and improve patient quality of life. He also revealed a pilot project looking at creating a new role for pharmacists to review medicines use across sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) would be launched later this year.
He said: “We are going to use a bit of the integration fund to, fairly quickly across seven areas of the country, look at system leadership in pharmacy and medicines optimisation at STP level. A senior pharmacist would be — in my view — the professional head for pharmacy and medicines optimisation, so beyond pharmacy and having an oversight of how well medicines are used across that STP area. We are laying the foundations for that and will pilot [later in 2018].”
In the light of the scandal at Gosport War Memorial Hospital between 1989 and 2000, Ridge said that he was looking “carefully” at whether any change was needed to the controlled drugs legislation and added that all pharmacists should be empowered to blow the whistle on bad practice.
“When people see practices that they are not comfortable with, there have to be mechanisms to speak up. When I think about my career as a chief pharmacist in a hospital, I would encourage a culture in my pharmacy team of speaking up. I would expect and hope that there are mechanisms in place for people to do that.”
As previously revealed by The Pharmaceutical Journal on 6 August 2018, Ridge also said he was hopeful that the NHS Urgent Medicine Supply Advanced service would be renewed in September 2018.