Community pharmacies carry out 15 million patient interventions every year in Northern Ireland over and above normal pharmacy services. With 4.4 million of these preventing patient harm, according to a the Community Pharmacy Intervention Survey.
Speaking at the launch of the findings, community pharmacist, Philip Boyle said, “We are the open door to the health service and this survey demonstrates how actively involved community pharmacists are in the healthcare of their patients. These interventions are the conversations, the observations, the interactions that take place every day in a community pharmacy and how they act as a crucial safety net for patient safety”.
One person who benefited from such an intervention was one of Philip’s patients, BBC Radio Ulster’s Walter Love, “As a diabetic I rely very much on the professional service provided to me by Philip Boyle at my local pharmacy in Crossgar. Philip keeps me right when I need something to ease normal winter ailments with advice on those to avoid as a diabetic.
One of the problems faced by diabetics is an unexpected low blood sugar event, when the ability to think straight can create real difficulties. Thankfully, with careful management, this is a rare occurrence. But some years ago it did happen to me when luckily I was in Crossgar pharmacy. Philip recognised the situation immediately, and took charge. He also called my GP at the nearby surgery, and he came immediately to check out my situation. I was taken care of until my blood sugar levels had returned to normal. I think this is a perfect example of the valuable role of the expertise of a community pharmacist in the local situation”.
Walter continued, “It seems to me that the value provided by local community pharmacies has never been so important. GPs surgeries are under enormous pressure, and this appears to be because they are frequently overwhelmed by people with minor ailments for which a GP consultation is inappropriate. The service provided by community pharmacists is a clear indication of how that congestion can be eased”.
The survey also revealed over 4 million health and wellbeing interventions are made by community pharmacies each year, addressing health inequalities in areas that need the support most. Gerard Greene, Community Pharmacy NI said, “Community pharmacies are visited by 123,000 people every day in Northern Ireland and community pharmacy teams know their patients, sometimes back through the generations. This unique contact with patients allows the teams to make opportunistic interventions, all without an appointment. We also find that patients often ask questions about their health in the informal pharmacy environment that they may find difficult to ask in other settings.”
Every age group benefits from the interventions of pharmacy teams, with almost 700,000 made to support minor ailments in children across the community pharmacy network each year. These results demonstrate that community pharmacies are being used as the first port of call for the treatment and management of minor ailments and health concerns. Without this resource, the next option for these children would be a GP appointment – causing an even greater bottle neck in an already stretched HSC system.
Making better us of our community pharmacies was part of Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill’s vision for the HSC. In her vision, Health and Wellbeing 2026: Delivering Together, the Health Minister said community pharmacists have an important role to play, “particularly in supporting people to keep well in the first place, and to use their medicines appropriately and safely”.
Gerard concluded, “Every day, community pharmacists make healthcare interventions as part of their normal working lives and this survey provides a snapshot of the diversity and often unseen side to the profession. This is just the tip of the iceberg, community pharmacies can and want to do so much more. Without this unique mix of clinical expertise and accessibility, a high number of patients’ health would undoubtedly be at risk”.
A number of speakers shared their experience of community pharmacy at the event. These included both the patient and community pharmacist perspective as well as presentations from the Patient and Client Council and the Hosford Homeless Project.
Read the Executive Summary here
Read the full Report here
Click here to watch some community pharmacists’ describing some of the interventions they have been involved in.