As political parties in Wales prepare for the Welsh elections on 5 May 2016, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in Wales is calling for greater use of the skills of the pharmacy profession to build capacity within the Welsh NHS.
This year’s election is predicted to be a ‘game-changer’. A new government, the influx of new assembly members, and opportunities for new political parties to enter the assembly are set to change the dynamic of assembly business. As with any change there are both opportunities and threats for pharmacy. We continue to look for chances to push pharmacy to the forefront of each political party’s agenda.
Over the past five years pharmacy in Wales has enjoyed a taste of the limelight. There has been general political support for pharmacy and the 2011 Programme of Government committed to making community pharmacy the first port of call for common ailments. The roll out of the ‘Choose Pharmacy’ common ailments scheme was recently given the go-ahead following a comprehensive pilot and evaluation – recognition of the pharmacist’s patient-facing role in today’s NHS.
Currently there is little indication as to whether pharmacy will feature so prominently in the next Programme of Government (2016–2021). In fact, there are several uncertainties as we approach the election. Which party or parties will form the new Welsh government? How much emphasis will it put on the role of pharmacy? Plans for healthcare are not yet clear because party political manifestos haven’t been published, leaving plans for the NHS and pharmacy in relative darkness.
Since autumn 2015 we have been speaking to the Welsh politicians to promote pharmacy and to get an insight into the likely tone of manifesto commitments. A wide range of opinions are emerging among the parties on the future of healthcare in Wales. At a recent election hustings event, hosted by the Welsh NHS Confederation, it was indicated by party spokespeople that a new Welsh Labour government would aim for stability and continuity of its Prudent Healthcare programme, whereas Plaid Cymru would look to overhaul the organisation of the NHS and focus on recruiting and training new doctors and nurses. The Liberal Democrats indicated they are committed to addressing the impact and challenges of ageing and chronic conditions, while the Welsh Conservatives emphasised the need to focus on prevention and the introduction of a deputy minister for public health.
While the opportunities for pharmacy are currently unclear, we are taking steps to influence party preparations for the election. In October 2015, we published our policy vision for Wales and promoted it to all political parties and key stakeholders. ‘Steps to Better Health and Wellbeing’ says that the current model of pharmacy delivery is out of date and calls for a commitment to unlock the potential of pharmacy to increase patient access to healthcare services and to help address capacity challenges across the NHS, particularly in primary care.
We are calling for three steps to be taken to make this happen; establish a pharmacy-led chronic medication service; permit pharmacist access to individual health records and fully integrate pharmacist expertise into NHS multidisciplinary teams.
Undertaking these steps will create the momentum for a programme of change and improvement; increasing patient access to pharmacist prescribers; shifting care closer to people’s homes; improving medicines safety; reducing medicines related admissions to hospital; and ensuring patient caseloads can be shared between pharmacists, GPs and other health professionals.
From our discussions to date there appears to be political support for these steps and we are continuing to meet with politicians and electoral candidates to promote our calls to action. While we eagerly await the publication of the manifestos, we know that the work does not stop there. Following the elections we will continue to meet with new assembly members and the Welsh government to push pharmacy to the forefront in Wales. Amidst the current uncertainty, we are clear – pharmacy must be put at the heart of healthcare in Wales.