NHS England will spend up to £28.6m on a four-year media campaign to reduce pressures on the NHS “by changing the way people access services”, including directing more people to visit community pharmacies for minor illnesses.
In a contract document between NHS England and Improvement and advertising agency M&C Saatchi, seen by The Pharmaceutical Journal, the NHS said it will pay the agency £5.7m in 2022/2023 to deliver its ‘Help us, help you’ campaign.
This campaign includes the publication of government-sponsored articles in newspapers in November 2022, advising patients to visit their local community pharmacy for minor ailments, which the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) described as “reckless”.
The contract document says the annual ‘Help us, help you’ campaign “supports the successful delivery of a number of the priority areas set out in the ‘NHS long-term plan’”, including “to make greater use of community pharmacy services and reduce pressure on other NHS services”.
It adds that an “increase [in] use of community pharmacists for minor illnesses” is one of ten objectives for the campaign, which will run this year until March 2023.
In January 2022, evidence submitted by the PSNC to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee suggested that a national pharmacy minor ailments scheme could transfer 40 million GP appointments to pharmacies saving the NHS up to £640m per year.
However, in September 2022, during negotiations for the fourth and fifth years of the community pharmacy contractual framework, the government declined to agree additional funding for a ‘walk-in’ minor ailments service proposed by the PSNC.
As part of its plans submitted to the NHS, M&C Saatchi said it would use “mass broadcast channels to reach broad audiences with broadly applicable messages”, while also using “using specific channels … to reach smaller audiences with more specificity”.
“The suggestion of seeing the pharmacist for minor ailments might be particularly helpful if heard whilst holding to book a GP appointment,” the document says.
Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said: “It’s all good highlighting the skillsets of community pharmacy and the important role it can play in tackling minor ailments as part of the ‘Help Us, Help You’ campaign or the ‘Ask Your Pharmacist’ campaign.
“However, the reality remains that our sector is severely underfunded and under resourced and any unfunded additional workload cannot be accepted. So much budget is being spent on this campaign when our sector is starving.
“Community pharmacy cannot be expected to do things for free — this mentality has to stop because it’s driving pharmacies to extinction. It’s the patient that will suffer when their local pharmacy shuts its doors for good unless the government acts urgently.“
According to the contract, NHS England will pay M&C Saatchi £6.7m and £7.7m to run the campaign again in 2023/2024 and 2024/2025, respectively, with the potential for the contract to be extended for a further year at a cost of £8.7m in 2025/2026.