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In whom we trust

When it comes to developing pharmacists’ clinical roles, the engagement of patients and the public may be the sticking point.

The public’s trust in the expertise of pharmacists would seem essential for the development of pharmacy as a clinical profession. So it is reassuring that most people quizzed in a recent Ipsos MORI survey said they trust health advice given by a pharmacist.

But delving into the findings of the January 2015 report, commissioned by the British pharmacy regulator the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), reveals a mixed picture. Although 87% of the 1,160 respondents said they trust a pharmacist’s advice a great deal or fair amount, the equivalent finding for GPs was an impressive 95%. Notably, significantly fewer people trusted advice “a great deal” from pharmacists (39%), than from nurses (45%), opticians (49%), dentists (50%) or GPs (62%).

Two out of five survey participants said they would ask their pharmacist for advice on medicines. We leave this for you to ponder.

That GPs are trusted more than pharmacists when it comes to health advice might not come as a big surprise, at least in the UK. Indeed, the authors of a qualitative study, published in BMJ Open[1] in 2012, suggested that current UK initiatives that seek to expand pharmacist-led services are undermined by a lack of public trust. In their small study, 26 members of the public were invited to attend focus groups; participants’ awareness of pharmacists’ extended roles was limited and they were reluctant to trust pharmacists to deliver unfamiliar services.

GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin told The Pharmaceutical Journal that more could be done to make the public aware of the fitness-to-practice process, professional and educational standards, and the pharmacy premises inspection model. Yet it is hard to see how well these concepts would resonate with the public.

Nothing would communicate the message more clearly than a top-rate experience every time someone visits their local pharmacy. However, we know this is far from the case; readers may recall the 2013 Which? investigation that found community pharmacies were offering unsatisfactory advice to patients 43% of the time.

The pharmacy regulator’s new premises inspection process, introduced in the latter half of 2013, may lead to improved standards in community pharmacy, but it is early days for the prototype model.

One major challenge will be how to boost the public’s understanding of pharmacist roles in their full diversity. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s work to galvanise pharmacists from a range of sectors and clinical specialisms to act as media spokespersons is a positive step. But that is a long game, and there is a great deal more to achieve.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2015.20067631

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