Rob Darracott reflects on pharmacy’s role in tackling antimicrobial resistance

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Darracott: “When it comes to tackling AMR, spreading the message is where it’s at.”

You won’t have heard of the Health & Social Care Network. For as long as I can remember, it’s fulfilled a useful function for pharmacy organisations in bringing together representatives from across the health and social care system – as it says on the tin – in an attempt to keep everybody up to speed with what’s going on in the wider system, so we can all plot how we might link our various pharmacy stakeholders into it. The HSCN meets quarterly. It met this week, on Thursday, at the new RPS HQ.

I’ve not pitched up there for a while, but the meeting agenda was a useful reminder of how fast the world is changing, and the context for everything that is challenging in our world right now – whether we like it or not, the NHS now is the world of STPs, A&EDBs, LWEGs, AHSNs and RMOCs. And, if you’re scratching your head right now and wondering what on earth those acronyms stand for, and why those things might be important, then that kind of makes my point.

I’m going to return to the importance of context in a longer post in the next week or so, but for now here’s a few thoughts on the main subject of Thursday’s meeting, antimicrobial resistance (acronym, natch, AMR), as an illustration of how community pharmacy needs to use opportunities on its own doorstep to stand alongside what’s topical across the health system right now. What’s more, its topicality means we can do something right now, it’s not too late for European Antibiotic Awareness Day in the middle of World Antibiotic Awareness week next month, and it’s important for what could come next.

Diane Ashiru-Oredope is everything when it comes to AMR – a one woman walking encyclopedia, campaigner and evangelist for all things antibiotic awareness. For over an hour, and 50+ slides, Diane, who leads from the front on this at Public Health England, took us on a tour round a subject she wants to be close to the hearts of all front line health professionals, and pharmacists in particular. If Diane pitches up in a town near you soon, get along and listen – you can’t help but be enthused by her story, the message, and her offer to get involved.

When it comes to tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR), spreading the message is where it’s at. You can get involved just by doing that. What’s important is to increase awareness among the public of this global issue, and that means engaging people on a level that will make a difference to them. In Diane’s view, community pharmacists are in a perfect place to do that – direct contact to more than a million people a day, who might be self-medicating, not finishing a course or who might be thinking about using or sharing leftover antibiotics with someone else. The stuff of everyday community pharmacy conversations.

For 2016, Diane is asking pharmacy teams to take a lead in spreading the word with the many people they have contact with, building on the chat, advice and trust relationship between individual and health professional. Advising on self-treatment for colds and ‘flu could be the springboard for a sentence or two about the problems of resistance and why we all need to act.

The campaign is built around European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD), now in its 9th year, and World Antibiotic Awareness Week (WAAW) which started last year. PHE have materials for download online; to start with all pharmacies will be receiving, if they haven’t already got, a pharmacy poster on AMR, endorsed by all the national pharmacy organisations, which is being distributed with PSNC’s Community Pharmacy News. Specific activity can be registered online, the hashtag #AntibioticGuardian can be used to share activity via social media.

The RCGP’s TARGET tookit includes patient leaflets, training resources for staff members, and information on action planning. . Anyone, including customers, can sign up to be an Antibiotic Guardian, choose a pledge message and encourage colleagues to do the same. So why don’t you do that right now? Pharmacists can earn an Antibiotic Guardian Pharmacy Champion badge by completing the Pharmacy EAAD learning  campaign. I’ll be taking part in a twitter chat hosted by WePharmacists on 15th November (8-10pm) on the role/contribution of pharmacy teams in tackling AMR, so join me online then.

I went along to the HSCN to catch up on this, and I’m passing it on now. You’ll hear more I’m sure from the other organisations around that table about AMR too. My point? Pharmacy is the third largest healthcare profession. We have things to say, specifically, about medicines; AMR is crucial to the ongoing health of millions. At a time when, rightly, pharmacy businesses are concerned about the next few months, AMR might sound like a big ask, even if it is just about thinking about the conversations we might have over the Winter about why antibiotics are not necessary for the coughs and colds that we will all suffer at some point before the clocks go forward again. But AMR is right up our street, more than anyone else’s, and is a perfect subject on which to build on the public interest in community pharmacy engendered by the anti-cuts campaign, and to show the rest of the system we on the case with them. And that’s all part of the context into which we are pitching our desired future, the Community Pharmacy Forward View.