Community pharmacy’s role in NHS Health Checks

Dave Rollinson, Sales Director – AAH Pharmaceuticals Ltd

According to a recent statement from Jeremy Hunt MP, the English Health Secretary, more than 650 lives a year could be saved as well as 1,600 heart attacks and 4,000 cases of diabetes prevented if simple NHS Health Checks for 40 to 74 year olds were offered throughout the country and taken up.

The provision of commissioned Health Checks could now represent a huge opportunity for community pharmacies many of which are already providing blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and lifestyle checks which can identify problems at an early stage allowing for appropriate interventions before conditions develop or complications set in.

We know that community pharmacies are ideally placed to provide health checks: they are located in every community including deprived areas where Health Checks are needed most, they offer convenience to people who do not want to “bother” their GP or take time of work and they are more accessible to those who are living unhealthy lives, such as smokers, but do not consider themselves to be “ill” and therefore see no reason to go to their local GP.

So why after all these years of Health Checks being available is there an opportunity for community pharmacy to step forward and be listened to? When the new healthcare structure in England was implemented in April of this year, responsibility for commissioning Health Checks passed to Local Authorities as part of their new public health responsibilities. Public Health England is now working with councils to help them roll them out Health Checks to 20 per cent of their eligible local population a year –15 million people by 2018/19.

That is a very ambitious target and Local Authorities will hopefully learn the lesson from previous years that over-reliance on GP practices will lead to under-delivery of the number of Health Checks required. That is not a criticism of GPs: there is only so much the NHS can expect from them at a time when demands on their time are increasing as you would expect with a population that is living longer, but often with chronic illnesses.

Equally, I hope Local Authorities will avoid reinventing the wheel and will instead turn to existing bricks and mortar healthcare assets in local communities staffed by professionals, namely community pharmacies.

Now is the time to put the case for Health Checks in community pharmacy to Local Authorities: that is exactly what Celesio UK is doing at a national level with the Department of Health and Public Health England. Bear in mind, however, that Local Authorities will expect more than just a statement, “we can do it”: they will want an evidence-based business case. Fortunately, there is quite a lot of evidence you can draw upon such as Lloydspharmacy’s 10 years of providing diabetes tests which has led to over 75,000 people being referred to their GP.

I am optimistic that with a robust message Local Authorities will be willing to listen to the case for community pharmacy to be at the heart of their strategies to deliver the Health Checks which need to be conducted in order to reduce the strain on the NHS and improve the nation’s health.