PRESS RELEASE: NIA programme is a welcome recognition of the wider value of community pharmacy

NHS England has today announced that a walk-in community pharmacy-based ‘Sore Throat Test and Treat’ service has been selected for inclusion in the National Innovation Accelerator (NIA) programme, a scheme designed to help with the adoption of promising new treatments and technologies.

Responding to the news, Pharmacy Voice has stated:

Today’s announcement is a welcome recognition of the potential community pharmacies have to deliver high impact services that are accessible to patients, relieve pressure on GP surgeries, help the NHS save money and contribute to a major public health priority.  This kind of innovative and simple, but potentially transformative, intervention is just one example of how community pharmacists and their teams can contribute to the Government’s plans for a more sustainable NHS, and is precisely the kind of initiative we have been urging them to support.

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most significant public health challenges we face globally, so new approaches to tackling inappropriate use of antibiotics are essential.  As the country’s medicines experts – all acutely aware of the impending antibiotics crisis and many already signed up as Antibiotic Guardians – community pharmacists are ideally placed to be at the forefront of the national effort to address this issue.

Data from the Boots pilot initiative, which ran across 35 of their pharmacies, shows not only that pharmacists can do this, but that the service can help ensure only people who test positive for a bacterial infection receive an antibiotic treatment – just 9.8% of patients who accessed the service in the published study.  Just under half of those people who did not test positive for a bacterial infection said they would have sought a GP appointment had they not been able to access this service.

However, for community pharmacists and their teams to be in a position to fulfil this type of role on a larger scale we need a wide, sustainable network of community pharmacies that are open, staffed and have the confidence to invest in the development of new services, which is a far cry from the uncertainty created by the funding cuts recently imposed on the sector.

Pharmacy Voice CEO Rob Darracott commented:

“The Government is currently in the process of undermining the pharmacy network through the imposition of funding cuts which sees many pharmacies considering the scope of the services they offer, their opening hours and their staffing.  This welcome recognition of a community pharmacy extended service highlights the inconsistency of the NHS’s stated desire to integrate community pharmacy services into the health and care system with the policy and funding decisions being taken by the Treasury and Department of Health.

“We also need to be clear that, as far as we understand it, this is not an announcement of a new NHS service that is actually going to be available across the country at this stage.  The National Innovation Accelerator (NIA) Programme provides an opportunity to explore and test how new, evidence-based interventions can be scaled-up and rolled out to provide greater patient benefit and improve health outcomes.

“If the NHS and Government are serious about working with the community pharmacy sector to develop and embed this type of initiative then we need partnerships not cuts.  This services demonstrates that community pharmacy can be innovative and evidence-focused.   Now is the time for the NHS and Government to move beyond soundbites and pilot projects, to make a firm commitment to both the public and community pharmacy teams that this is the kind of role they see them playing in future, and invest in it properly.”