The NHS in England could save £1.9bn per year by investing an additional £656m into community pharmacy, pharmacy representatives have told the government.
The return on investment would come from saving 8.5 million GP appointments, releasing 2 million hospital bed days and identifying an estimated 5.5 million patients with undiagnosed hypertension.
In its ‘Autumn budget and spending review 2021 representation’, the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) — which represents the UK’s biggest pharmacy multiples including Boots, LloydsPharmacy and Well — said the “primary barrier” to creating these savings “is a lack of funding allowing businesses to invest in pharmacy teams and retaining skilled healthcare staff”.
The CCA report was published on 1 October 2021 and follows calls from the UK government for evidence from interest groups or representative bodies to inform its autumn budget and spending review, which will be announced on 27 October 2021.
The CCA spending review set government budgets for the two years from 2022/2023 to 2024/2025.
In its representation, the CCA said that it had identified “over £1.901bn of benefits” to the NHS that could be achieved with an investment of £656m into the sector.
The investment includes an additional £35m to increase the number of patients referred through the ‘Discharge medicines service’ (DMS).
The document notes that NHS England’s initial evaluation of the DMS showed that each referral avoids 1.3 bed days.
“To realise the potential of this service and release 2 million bed days every year there is a need to increase the volume of this service,” the report says.
“It is currently estimated that the service may provide 500,000 reviews a year. However, a further 1 million reviews each year are needed to provide the possible returns.”
With pharmacies receiving £35 per review under the DMS, the CCA said meeting the cost of this increase will require £35m. But, it added, “releasing the possible 2 million bed days could save £720m annually, a fivefold return on investment”.
The CCA also proposed an additional £145m to save 8.5 million GP appointments by expanding the ‘Community pharmacist consultation service’.
“This will allow for an expansion of the current consultation pathway, an increasing complexity to the patients eligible and a move to support patients with minor injuries.
“This additional funding will displace a minimum of £255m worth of NHS appointments, mainly from general practice,” the CCA said.
The representative body added that an additional £130m annually “will enable a rapid deployment of the screening activity needed to find the 5.5 million people with undiagnosed hypertension”.
From October 2021, community pharmacies began offering blood pressure checks as part of a hypertension case-finding advanced service.
Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA, said the representation to the UK Treasury described “an exciting vision of the future where community pharmacy plays a vital role in the health of local communities”.
“By supporting the sector, the benefits to the NHS are returned many times over. We’ve seen during the pandemic how valued community pharmacy is.
“Now is the time to capitalise on that sentiment and support a new model of community healthcare,” he said.