NPA Chair Andrew Lane handing a copy of How We Can Help to Health Secretary Sajid Javid at Keencare Pharmacy last year.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, has promised a plan for change in primary care and said he would be “starting with pharmacy”.

Speaking at the NHS Confederation exhibition (NHSConfedExpo) in Liverpool on Wednesday, he said: “I don’t think our current model of primary care is working. That won’t be a surprise to you. I know. You know. Patients know. And everyone working in primary care knows: we need a plan for change. We are starting with pharmacy – and I will be setting out my plans shortly.”

His remarks follow earlier comments made at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) centenary dinner in November 2021, where he told NPA members that he supports a “pharmacy first” model of care for minor illnesses, to help address the backlog of NHS care arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.  He said he said he wanted to “go further” than existing services like the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, to make it “quicker and easier” for people to access primary care.  “I want to see how much further we can go. That’s one of the reasons why we’re working up plans for a pharmacy first model in England that will direct more patients directly to pharmacies without having to go to see their GPs. This will help us to beat the backlog and make sure that even more people can benefit from [pharmacists’] brilliant advice and care.” In a passage about preventing ill health, he said at the NPA dinner: “I want community pharmacies to be at the very heart of primary care – not just treating people but preventing people from becoming patients in the first place.”

In October, Sajid Javid was presented with a copy of How We Can Help, which the NPA described as its “bold plan to unleash the potential of community pharmacy”.  The document highlighted pharmacists’ strong face-to-face relationships with patients, and community pharmacy’s broad potential in preventing ill health, managing long term conditions and improving primary care access.

NPA chair, Andrew Lane said today: “In the last fortnight, the Health Secretary, the chief executive of NHS England and the chief executives of all England’s Integrated Care Systems have all publicly cited community pharmacy as a solution to primary care access problems. That is no accident and results from the brilliant work of pharmacy teams throughout the pandemic, as well as persistent advocacy by the NPA and others to position the sector as the front door to the NHS. Such recognition across the healthcare system is very welcome, so long as the level of investment matches the level of ambition for change and improvement.”

“For anyone looking for clues about Sajid Javid’s plans, they can examine How We Can Help as a best case scenario. Community pharmacy is a can-do sector, which can be an agent of really positive change in primary care, given the necessary investment.”

At NHSConfedExpo, the Health Secretary also thanked Dr Claire Fuller for her recent review of primary care integration. Having worked closely with the Fuller team, the NPA last week issued a report of a pharmacy roundtable hosted by the association on their behalf.

At the same NHSConfedExpo event, NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard announced a pilot scheme in which community pharmacists can refer patients directly to hospital for a cancer diagnosis, rather than in every case refer to general practice.