The untapped potential of pharmacists in long-term condition management

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The untapped potential of pharmacists in long-term condition management

GPs and practice nurses have long been a patient’s first port of call. But this may be about to change.

When someone is worried about their health or needs ongoing support with a diagnosed condition, they make an appointment with their local surgery. However, as part of NHS England’s Long Term Plan, there’s a push towards greater pharmacist integration.

So what does this mean for primary care?

By making better use of pharmacist skills and knowledge, NHS England hopes that pharmacists can provide a wider range of primary care services.

This could make a huge difference to surgery workload and patient health.

If NHS plans are successful, patients with long term conditions, like asthma, COPD, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, will find it much easier to get the care they need. 

But where are things up to? What challenges are we facing in chronic condition care? And how can pharmacists help?

Let’s take a look.

Chronic condition management: the two big challenges

Growing demand

Around 15 million people in England live with long- term conditions. And because chronic conditions are more common in older people, this figure is expected to rise as the UK population ages.

Analysis by Diabetes UK suggests that type 2 diabetes is going to become a particular issue, with up to 1 in 10 UK adults needing diabetes management by 2030.

We know that more and more people will need ongoing care for a health condition, . But the number of healthcare staff available to offer it is dwindling.

Staff shortages

Practice nurses within a GP practice have traditionally provided care for patients with long- term health conditions. 

But The Health Foundation says that primary care practices in England are short of 4,200 full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs and 1,700 FTE practice nurses.

A lack of NHS staff is putting strain on GP practices. Many are struggling to meet QoF and IIF targets, and to provide the level of patient care that they aspire to.

The fix?

Helping patients to manage long- term health conditions has been proving difficult for a while now. But better pharmacist integration within primary care is already helping to make a difference.

How pharmacist integration can help

Thanks to the NHS Long Term Plan, pharmacists are more involved in primary care than they used to be. 

In some local surgeries, you’ll find clinical pharmacists having face-to-face appointments with patients and assisting the work of the primary care team.

NHS England wants more surgeries around the country to have a resident clinical pharmacist. And there are plans to expand the role of community pharmacists too.  

The big idea? WithThat with the right training, pharmacists can collaborate with GP practices, . And they can support patients with long term conditions in a variety of different ways.

Early diagnosis

Some community pharmacies already offer services like blood pressure checks.

NHS England now wants to explore the viability of point-of-care testing (POCT) in community pharmacy settings.

This would mean pharmacies could test for a wider range of chronic conditions. They could catch health problems early, making them more manageable and lowering a patient’s risk of complications.

Giving medicine information

When a patient is first prescribed new medication, they should understand why, how and when they need to take it.

They also need to know what side effects they should be looking out for.

A pharmacist can provide this information, educating patients on their condition and medication. They can also advise patients on how to manage their condition at home.  

Supporting patients with adherence

How many patients take their meds as prescribed? NICE estimates that between a third and a half of all medicines prescribed for long term conditions aren’t taken properly.

This impacts patient health. And the NHS budget. And it’s another problem that pharmacists are well-placed to solve.

One small study showed that patients were more likely to be open about their non-adherence with a pharmacist, than with a GP or nurse.

And that after a pharmacist got in touch, patients were very likely to restart medication as per their prescription.

Prescribing

Pharmacists in England can prescribe medicines as long as they have the prescribing qualification. But community pharmacies don’t usually provide this type of service for patients.

The NHS wants to bring about a change. A pilot of independent prescribing at community pharmacies in England is taking place this year, following a very successful pilot in Wales in June 2020. 

If more pharmacists can prescribe or change medication for patients, it will be easier to keep chronic conditions under control.

Monitoring long- term conditions

With better pharmacist integration, pharmacists can take responsibility for chronic disease reviews as per the recommended schedule.

They can conduct the blood pressure tests involved in hypertension management. Or respond to the blood tests that form part of type 2 diabetes management.

Based on a chronic condition review, a pharmacist can judge whether a condition is properly under control. And, if not, a prescribing pharmacist can update medication to better meet the needs of a patient.

Keeping up-to-date records

There’s a lot of admin involved in chronic condition care, especially when practices are trying to meet QOF and IIF targets.

Clinical pharmacists can take care of paperwork, helping GP surgeries to tick the right boxes and keep records up-to-date.

The key benefits of pharmacist integration

For patients

Pharmacist integration makes chronic disease care easier and more convenient for patients.

Pharmacist-led care can also improve patient outcomes.

We’ve seen this ourselves.

As part of Suvera’s hypertension management service, the number of patients in a normal range increased by 113% when patients were under the care of our prescribing pharmacist team.

For GP practices

Pharmacists can lighten the load. The pressure on a GP surgery eases. A practice can meet its QoF and IIF targets. And provide the best possible care to its patients.

For the NHS

Early diagnosis and better care for chronic conditions means fewer health complications and less demand for healthcare services across the NHS.  

In summary

Pharmacist integration marks an exciting shift in primary care and long term condition management.

Collaboration between GP surgeries and pharmacists will hopefully mean higher levels of patient satisfaction. And better overall patient care.

Here at Suvera, we wanted to turn these benefits into a reality sooner, rather than later.

Our CQC registered virtual clinic, staffed by a team of experienced prescribing pharmacists, takes on the task of chronic condition management for your practice.

We give your patients quick, easy and convenient access to healthcare. This means better patient outcomes whilst you, as a practice, get to meet your QoF and IIF targets.  

Want to know more? Then take a look at our services currently available to our practice partners.