Right now the NHS is under intense pressure. A&E departments are struggling to cope with the flow of patients coming in and GPs are similarly feeling the strain with many patients making trips to see them which could be handled by a pharmacist. An estimated 51.4 million GP consultations (18% of the total) involve common ailments which could be dealt with by a pharmacist. The stats speak for themselves. In England alone over 15 million people (almost one in three) have a long-term condition. This figure is set to rise over the next ten years, particularly with those living with three or more conditions at once. This doesn't bode well for the £20billion of savings the NHS must make by 2015 and the expected continuing pressure on funding.
For a long time awareness of what pharmacists do (in addition to dispensing medicines) and how they can help patients has been low. Yet pharmacists can support better patient centred care within health and social care, particularly with the support of other NHS colleagues. And that support is building.
NHS England for example recently launched a campaign called 'The earlier, the better'. This aims to reduce pressure on urgent care by encouraging people to seek help early on from their local pharmacist if they're feeling under the weather. This recognition that pharmacists can be part of the solution for patients which reduces pressure on other parts of the NHS is hugely welcomed and just the sort of support the profession needs to get more involved in direct patient care.
Pharmacists are also working alongside nurses and doctors, working together to improve care for patients. For example Lelly Oboh, a pharmacist in London, is part of an innovative, mixed team of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals. Lelly's team works in hospitals to make sure people return home as soon as possible but they also visit them once they're home to make sure they're taking their medicines as prescribed and don't end up back in a hospital bed.
Another pharmacist, Rena Amin, is a partner at a GP surgery. Rena has a caseload of patients with long-term conditions and she covers the routine management of them. She makes sure the patients are getting the most out of their medicines and addresses treatment and gives advice on medicines use.
There are dozens more examples of similar work by pharmacists ensuring patients are the healthiest they can be and hospital admissions are cut.
In 2013 the RPS launched a commission looking at future models of care delivered though pharmacy. The result of this was a report, Now or Never which highlights the NHS needs to make the most of the third largest health profession, especially as the number of pharmacists continues to grow.
And the public needs to make the most of us too. Community pharmacists, for example, are well placed to help patients with 99% of us never more than 20 minutes away from a pharmacy by car. They have private consultation areas and you don't need to make an appointment to see the pharmacist.
Pharmacists are ready, willing and able to make a huge difference to patient care - and in some areas big changes are already happening - but it's not happening fast enough. We'd like to see the NHS look at how better care can be delivered through pharmacy right across England so all patients can benefit.