But don't take my word for it, ask the Blair Government, or Gordon Brown's...or even David Cameron's for that matter. You see, community pharmacy owners have heard this phrase repeated for a very, very long time now.
And, of course, they're absolutely right.
- Need a flu vaccination? Go to your community pharmacy
- Need help on how to use your prescription inhaler? Ditto
- Perhaps you are not sure what kind of a rash that is...
Wherever you are right now, the likelihood is that the quickest and easiest place for you to get health advice or support is a nearby pharmacy. In fact, 90% of people in the UK live within a 20 minute walk of their local pharmacy - a statistic that rises to almost 100% in the country's most deprived areas.
With that kind of reach, and with clinically trained pharmacists available in thousands of locations across the country when you need them and without an appointment, it's no wonder successive Governments have seen community pharmacy as a 'potential' answer to a prayer.
But despite much talk of this potential, successive governments have done little to ensure the resources and skills available in local pharmacies deliver the value and impact we know they can. Some proposed reforms to the community pharmacy sector, announced by the Department of Health last December, did little to move the debate on, other than to create a row over funding that remains unresolved.
In short, if community pharmacy is going to help keep our beloved NHS going, it needs to come up with its own ideas. So that's what we've done.
Pharmacy Voice and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, with the support of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, have just launched the Community Pharmacy Forward View - a prescription for the healthcare system that will redefine the role of pharmacies on our high streets and in our local communities.
Sounds good. But what does this mean in reality? Here are some of the headlines:
A bigger role in supporting people with long-term conditions
If you're living with a long-term health condition, chances are that prescription medicines will feature highly in your care and support plan, and may need review or adjustment from time to time. Who better to help you manage a potentially complex treatment regime on a day-to-day basis than a community pharmacist local to your home or work. After all, they're experts in the use of medicines and, as they're around the corner, you can pop-in if and when you need to. This helps your GP by freeing up time for the things only they can do, and it helps you by ensuring you have convenient, regular contact with a healthcare professional who can keep an eye on your health.
Recognition as the first port-of-call for healthcare advice and treating minor illness
If you have a cold, a cough, or a sore throat, there are plenty of ways a pharmacy can help, and this will often be quicker and more convenient than a visit to your GP. For these kinds of minor illnesses that will usually resolve themselves, community pharmacists can provide the same practical self-care advice that a GP or practice nurse would give, as well as over-the-counter medicines that can often really help to take the edge off. They might not be a cure, but they can make you feel better and able to get on with day-to-day activities while your body recovers. And on the off-chance things are a bit more serious, then pharmacists can pick this up very quickly and get you on your way to seeing the right person as soon as possible. The same is true for a myriad of other common conditions.
Community pharmacists and their teams will be redoubling their efforts to encourage people to come to them first with these niggling or minor ailments; if we succeed, we'll be helping to relieve pressure on GPs and A&E, we'll be helping people to stay well and at work, and we'll be helping Government to cut costs, not services - what's not to like?
Establishing pharmacy as the 'health and wellbeing hub' within your local communities
If the first two points in the plan are about managing long and short-term health conditions, then this one is about promoting general health and wellbeing. - as the saying goes, "prevention is better than cure". For many, a pharmacy is already far more than just a place to get medicines or health care advice - it's part of their routine. They pop-in for their repeat prescription, have a natter and maybe bump into a friend. They might even learn about a stop smoking class while they're in, or the support they can get to help lose weight.
Increasingly Health Champions situated in the community pharmacy network are taking wellness to the wider public, challenging those of us who might need a prompt to take more control of our own health. We want to let more people know that pharmacies offer these services and to strengthen our connections with the wider community. We want to reach out to local community groups, charities, places of worship, leisure and library facilities, social care, education, employment, housing and welfare services - and use these to bring all of the self-care services we have to offer to an even wider network of people. We'll also look to partner with employers to support workplace health initiatives, supporting the growth of UK Plc in the process.
While these are big changes, they are largely evolutionary. All of what is being proposed here has been trialled somewhere in the country with great success. The real challenge ahead of us is to convince Government to match our ambition for change, and align national policy with a vision for the future that every local pharmacy, and the communities they serve, can get behind.
Who knows, this Government may finally be the one that realises that much vaunted, oft quoted, potential.
You can review the Community Pharmacy Forward View by visiting our website:
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