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How pharmacists have tackled public perception

Robbie Turner, of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, tells OT  that pharmacists have “turned a corner” in how the public views his profession

Needle going in to an arm

Who would you trust to put a needle under your skin? When Robbie Turner (pictured) is asked for an example of how public perceptions of pharmacists have changed over time, he points to the increasing uptake of flu vaccinations in community pharmacies.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS) director for England observes that there are few procedures performed on the High Street that are more invasive.

“The public are becoming more open to pharmacists delivering clinical services. Five years ago we would never have seen the acceptance on the scale that we do now,” he shared.

“I think that helps to demonstrate that patients are now seeing pharmacists in a different way,” Mr Turner added.

Part of this shift in perceptions has been prompted by members of the public seeing pharmacists in a greater variety of settings.

The RPS has pushed ahead with campaigns calling for a pharmacist in every GP surgery and for pharmacists to play a greater role in urgent care.

Both campaigns gained significant traction, with NHS England committing around £100 million pounds to support 1500 pharmacists to work in general practice by 2021.

The Government has also agreed to provide 60 full time equivalent pharmacist positions in urgent call centres dealing with NHS 111 calls.

Mr Turner said that the support from NHS England has been encouraging.

“This isn’t just the rhetoric of people saying it is a good idea – we are seeing NHS England really embrace this and put significant amounts of funding in to help support us,” he observed.

Mr Turner highlighted that both initiatives aim to use the skillset of pharmacists in a more effective way, for the benefit of patients and the wider system.

Providing sensible answers to important questions was at the heart of both campaigns, he added.

“For us, the key has been knowing that what we are campaigning and advocating for are the right things to do,” he shared.

“This is really about going back to the questions we all want to focus on as clinicians – how do we improve the care of patients? How do we use the profession that we represent to achieve that?”

Robbie Turner

Firmer footing

Although the take-up of the campaigns has been promising, Mr Turner believes there is still work to do.

“Even though the numbers are good and the financial investment has been significant we have still not covered the whole country. This is still only being delivered in pockets,” he shared.

As well as extending the roll out of the GP and urgent care schemes, the RPS would like to enhance the role of pharmacists in care homes and mental health.

The focus of public-facing campaigns has focused on enhancing the public’s understanding of the role that pharmacists can play.

“The main thing is helping them recognise that if they have got any questions, concerns or worries about how to get the best out of their medicine, they should speak to their pharmacist first,” Mr Turner shared.

When communicating with the NHS, the RPS has concentrated on framing medicines as an investment, rather than a cost that needs to be minimised.

“The spend on medicines is one of the most significant within the NHS. We know we are not getting the outcomes from that spending that we should be and pharmacists are the key people who can help the NHS deliver the best value for money,” he observed.

"This is really about going back to the questions we all want to focus on as clinicians – how do we improve the care of patients? How do we use the profession that we represent to achieve that"

Tipping point

While previously there had been concerns about pharmacists taking on more clinical roles, Mr Turner highlighted his belief that the profession has “turned a corner.”

RPS campaigns have garnered the support of MPs, government ministers, policymakers and other healthcare professionals.

“They have all been really positive about the increasing role of pharmacists,” he shared.

Mr Turner added the profession has been instrumental in engaging this level of support by living up to the claims made by the RPS about the role pharmacists can play.

“People are delivering what we say they can deliver so that puts us on a really firm footing,” Mr Turner highlighted.

“There is a confidence now in pharmacists – recognising what they have to give and the skills that were for many years underutilised,” he added.

Image credit: Getty