Source: MAG / The Pharmaceutical Journal
The report, published on 14 July, comes after a survey of 1,002 consumers, conducted in June 2017, which found that 69% of people reject any shift away from local pharmacies supplying NHS medicines towards online retailers. That figure rises dramatically to 93% in older people — the heaviest users of pharmacy services. The survey also found that 87% of people believe that local pharmacies are better than an online service for obtaining healthcare advice.
NPA chairman Ian Strachan said: “In an age when the online supply of medicines is becoming an increasingly prominent feature, it is important to remember how fundamental the human touch is in healthcare. There are profound clinical benefits from face-to-face interactions between patients and healthcare professionals such as GPs and pharmacists. As well as the benefits in relation to patient outcomes, there is also a positive impact on the efficiency of the wider healthcare system.”
“Your local pharmacy is more than just a place to get medicines. Internet and mail order pharmacies are in no way equivalent to your local pharmacy and cannot give the same level of support available through the locally provided, personal service at the heart of your community.”
Significant clinical benefits
The report describes a range of real-life scenarios in which face-to-face contact in local pharmacies have brought significant clinical benefits and may even have been life-saving.
These include a woman who spoke to the pharmacist about a possibly infected big toe. The pharmacist observed that she appeared overly emotional, and further discussion revealed that she was a new mum and that her mother was also very ill. She was referred and diagnosed with postnatal depression. Another patient who needed medical care included a man who came into the pharmacy asking for Gaviscon liquid and mentioned that he was feeling bloated. Observing that the whites of his eyes were tinged yellow, the pharmacist asked further questions before referring him to the GP. It turned out that he required urgent surgery for removal of his gallbladder.
Despite the benefits of face-to-face pharmacy and its popularity with patients, the government has shown it is keen to see new models of dispensing, including online pharmacy and hub and spoke models.
Online medicines caution
However, in March, the Care Quality Commission warned the public to be cautious when buying medicines online after inspections highlighted significant concerns about patient safety.
Following an inspection, one company voluntarily cancelled its registration, and another had its registration suspended. A month later, the regulator, which is undertaking a programme of inspection of 46 online services registered in England, suspended an online company and issued warnings to three others amid fears that adequate checks were not being carried out before the medicines were dispensed, putting patient safety at risk.
 National Pharmacy Association. Face to Face. Available at: https://www.npa.co.uk/representing-you/campaigns/face-face-report/ (accessed July 2017)