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Community pharmacy saves the day again

On Friday 12 May 2017, we saw what was possibly the biggest attack on the NHS IT infrastructure. Despite not appearing to be a specific target, it has had a massive effect on patient care. There were many GP surgeries unable to access online patient records or issue electronic prescriptions; enter community pharmacy.

The sector proved once again to be an invaluable part of the NHS, helping with patients’ medication details and providing emergency supplies to ensure patient care was not compromised and other already stretched services (e.g. accident and emergency) were not further stretched. But this is not the first time that community pharmacies have stepped up to the mark.

In 2009, several pharmacies across the UK, with little preparation or experience, became depots for supply of antivirals in the avian influenza pandemic. I cannot recall a service that we planned and implemented in such a short period. They offered expert advice to patients and their close contacts and helped to minimise the impact to the community from what could have been a national emergency.

On several occasions (most recently in December 2015) flooding has ravaged many communities in the UK. Pharmacies in the affected areas kept their services going, ensuring the patients under their care were looked after and had everything they needed in truly appalling conditions, even delivering medicines on foot where needed. This is just one of the value-added services pharmacies offer.

The internet pharmacy Pharmacy2U was unable to deliver any medicines to patients over the 2015–16 Christmas period. There seemed to be no possible resolution, and patients just had to wait until the New Year or had their electronic prescription sent back to the NHS spine. Who stepped in to ensure continuity of care? Community pharmacy.

The government’s proposals to close up to a quarter of pharmacies in England will threaten patient care in the future. We have seen on so many occasions what community pharmacies do for their patients and that seemingly nothing will stop them. They are integral parts of and have special relationships with their communities; they are invested in their patients’ well-being and will go above and beyond to ensure they get the best possible care, regardless of the circumstances. Internet pharmacies have a place but we have seen time and time again that there is no safe and effective alternative to face-to-face care.

Ben Merriman

Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20202808

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