The newly elected Conservative Party government plans to “unleash the potential” of community pharmacies to become a first port of call for the treatment of minor illness.
Speaking at the Policy Exchange think tank on 18 December 2019, in his first speech since he was reappointed to the role of health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock said more than 10,000 pharmacies already take referrals from other parts of the NHS and he wants that number to grow over the next five years.
It is thought he was referring to the community pharmacist consultation service, which launched on 29 October 2019. The service currently takes referrals from NHS 111, and there are plans to expand this to GPs, urgent treatment centres and possibly hospital emergency departments.
“We will … unleash the potential of our pharmacies, because there really is so much more they are capable of doing,” Hancock said.
The expansion of the role of community pharmacies reflects the government’s commitment to health prevention — one of four priorities for the NHS, alongside technology, people and infrastructure, he added.
Hancock also promised there will be a focus on vaccination against preventable disease, smoking cessation, reducing obesity and embedding a “more proactive, predictive and personalised approach across the NHS”.
He pledged that each of the new government’s four priorities for healthcare will apply “across every part of the system: pharmacies, primary care, community care, mental health, hospitals, and social care too”.
The government has also said, in The Queen’s Speech, that it will enshrine in law a multi-year funding settlement for the NHS.
The speech, which lays down its priorities for the next year in parliament, was delivered on 19 December 2019. It also promised the creation of a new fast-track visa designed to attract qualified overseas nurses, doctors and other health professionals into the NHS.
A government promise, included in the speech, to bring forward “changes to business rates” was welcomed by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA).
Gareth Jones, head of corporate affairs at the NPA, said in a statement: “The current tax regime treats pharmacies differently from doctors and dentists, who both receive a rebate from the NHS for the business rates they pay.
“Pharmacies, whose activities mostly consist of providing NHS services, are being penalised for being at the heart of communities where they are needed most.”