Here we look at the role of pharmacies, how they have evolved and how community pharmacy continues to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of the population and modern consumer expectations
Pharmacies have seen enormous changes over the years. A century ago, anyone visiting their local pharmacist would have been presented with a very different setting to the modern pharmacy.
In those days pharmacies were filled with an array of colourful bottles and smells – this was because the medicines that were dispensed by pharmacists were made at the back of the premises.
Pharmacists would create pills and potions by hand, using recipes written in a ledger. They would weigh ingredients and mix and grind them in a mortar.
Today, of course, pharmacies buy medication from wholesalers that has often been imported from across the globe.
Many other changes have taken place in the world of pharmacy over the past century. They include the formation of the NHS in 1948, the overhaul of medicines regulations in 1968, the massive expansion in the range of medicines available to patients and new roles in public health, urgent care and managing long-term conditions; all bringing us to the vital contribution of pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Modern pharmacists do so much more than hand out pills and count tablets. As well as offering advice and treatment for minor ailments such as ear aches and skin rashes, a pharmacist will refer you for a GP or hospital appointment if something needs checking out further.
Community pharmacy is increasingly integrated with the wider NHS. Pharmacies work closely with GPs and help to prevent hospital admissions and unnecessary GP appointments.
As a result of all this, pharmacists have developed a range of skills that extend far beyond a knowledge of medicines. This has especially been highlighted during the pandemic.
Coronavirus has been the biggest test in the history of community pharmacy. With GP surgeries, opticians and dentists forced to suspend services or provide care remotely, many patients turned to pharmacy teams for face-to-face help. Those teams faced the challenges head-on despite a massive increase in workload.
Community pharmacy is increasingly integrated with the wider NHS
Another consequence of COVID-19 is that it has rapidly accelerated several developments in pharmacy practice. It is clear that community pharmacy will need to keep evolving to meet the ever-changing needs of the population and modern consumer expectations.
Technological advances mean that most prescriptions are now electronic and pharmacists can access elements of electronic patient care records to maximise medicines safety. Pharmacies will always provide a responsive, personal, face-to-face service in the community, but can now also offer the convenience of online ordering and digital communication with patients.
Technology will present other opportunities such as changes to diagnostics and monitoring of disease. Opportunities are growing for patients to run their own tests, such as for blood pressure, and monitor disease progression without necessarily relying on the health service.
But who is there to help a patient interpret what they are finding or deal with a concerning result? That is one reason why accessible and trusted community pharmacists will always be vital.
Who knows where digital developments may take us in the future? Hopefully it will enable us to get closer to our patients, be even more efficient and provide increasingly personalised treatments.
Whatever the future holds, pharmacies will continue to play an important role in the health, wellbeing and daily life of the communities they serve for decades to come. For pharmacists and their teams, it is a privilege to help people and save lives.