The pharmacy profession in England had “limited influence” and representation in government health policies, researchers have concluded.
In their analysis of 25 policies published between 2008 and 2017 — 18 of which by the UK government and 7 of which by professional pharmacy organisations — researchers found divergence across several policy areas.
The researchers, who published their findings in Exploratory Research in Clinical and Social Pharmacy on 28 June 2023, also identified several weaknesses in pharmacy policies, including transparency of evidence on which they are based, which they said could be detrimental to the profession’s credibility.
The research also shows that policies from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), Community Pharmacy England — formerly the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee — and the now disbanded Pharmacy Voice did not reflect government priorities around cancer and mental health.
The policy analysis chimed with previous research that revealed how the pharmacy profession tended to focus on the provision of NHS services rather than broader public health issues, such as social disadvantage.
The authors also concluded that their results align with previous calls for community pharmacy policy to demonstrate more relevance to society.
“The inclusion of all these areas in professional policy in alignment with governmental policy could have resulted in community pharmacy responding to societal need and the political context in a more timely manner,” the paper said.
Overall, less than 30% of the governmental policies looked at referred to pharmacy policies, which was likely the result of multiple factors, but did suggest that “professional policies may not be seen as credible”.
“Professional policies might become more credible to governmental organisations with a more transparent and detailed approach to policymaking, especially with regard to implementation, evaluation, and professional and public involvement,” the researchers added.
However, they also found major areas of agreement in policies, such as the underutilisation of community pharmacists; pressures in urgent care and general practice; community pharmacists’ role in long-term conditions management, and further integration in primary care; as well as the importance of technology.
The authors also noted that the RPS had published two policy papers on the role of community pharmacy in cancer care and mental health since the timeframe of the review, which were highlighted by the authors in the review as areas where pharmacy policies had not matched government proposals.
“Professional [pharmacy] policies were rarely cited in governmental policies. This might be attributed in part to limited transparency and stakeholder involvement in the former,” the authors concluded.
“Future professional policies are likely to benefit from addressing these problems and a greater focus on implementation and evaluation.”
Responding to the paper, Claire Anderson, president of the RPS said: “Having reviewed the published article we note the limitations of the study, not least the dated timeframe (2008–2017) and its focus on England only, not representing policy influence in devolved nations.
“At the RPS, policy development is a transparent and collaborative process. We involve members, board members, expert advisory groups, and other pharmacy bodies to shape our policies.
“Additionally, we collaborate with royal colleges and professional bodies across Great Britain, co-endorsing projects and utilising their expertise. Patient representative groups also play a crucial role in providing valuable insights and influence in our policy development.
“Noting the dated timeframe and limited number of policies analysed, we refer the study to both our ‘Utilising community pharmacists to support people with cancer’ policy paper and the ‘Role of pharmacy in mental health and wellbeing’.”
- This article was amended on 19 July 2023 to clarify dates and to include additional comment