Should pharmacies play a bigger role in healthcare?

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They could offer more support for deprived areas

A recent study by Durham University has suggested that pharmacies should be providing a wider range of health services because of their influential reach into local communities.

The researchers revealed that 89% of the English population live within a 20 minute walk of a nearby pharmacy, however in deprived areas, this figure increased to nearly 100%. Experts believe that with additional support, pharmacies could be able to provide everything from blood pressure checks and diabetes screening to lifestyle advice. Although some pharmacies already offer these services, it is very much dependent on the funding of local health bosses.

The study, which used postcode analysis, suggested that pharmacies could play a vital role in healthcare, since the inverse care law did not seem to apply. This refers to the fact that the areas with the best health services tended to be the ones with the least health problems, however as deprived areas had the better access to pharmacies, the results showed the reverse was true.

Community approach

Lead author Dr Adam Todd told BBC News “These results show that pharmacies are well-placed in the community to deliver public health services. This is particularly important for the poorest areas where more people die from conditions such as smoking, alcohol misuse and obesity compared to people from more affluent areas. With easy access without patients needing to make an appointment, the results suggest there is a potential for community pharmacies to deliver public health interventions to areas which need it most.”

English Pharmacy Board chair Dr David Branford said the study demonstrated the “huge potential” the sector could have. “The less formal approach and sheer convenience provided by a high street presence means they are a beacon of wellbeing and advice to many who would simply never engage with other healthcare settings.”

NHS England has already called for pharmacies to get more involved in delivering care with the review of urgent and emergency care last year suggesting up to a fifth of GP appointments could be dealt with by pharmacies or through better self-care. A Department of Health spokeswoman said the number of pharmacies had increased by nearly 2,000 since 2005 to 11,500, adding “Community pharmacies are an integral part of the NHS.”