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As pharmacies play a greater role in looking after peoples’ health, the results from Ipsos found that the vast majority of patients (91%) who had used a community pharmacy in the previous year for advice about medicines, a health problem or injury, or what health service they should use said they received good advice.
The research comes as more than 11,000 pharmacies in England can now access training to spot signs of cancer as part of a new drive to catch tumours earlier when they are easier to treat.
Starting in Cornwall from next month, a new pilot will see pharmacies spot people who repeatedly come into buy cough medicine or other medicines to manage their symptoms and can refer them to get checked for cancer.
Potential signs of cancer include coughing, chest pain and breathlessness that lasts for three weeks or more, changes in bowel habits or bloating.
During the pilot, people with a persistent cough, difficulty swallowing or blood in their urine who might not otherwise have sought help, will be referred by their pharmacist to hospital for further tests.
More than half a million people have also received a lifesaving heart blood pressure check in their local pharmacy since October 2021.
And over 440,000 people have been treated for a minor illness at their local pharmacy in 2022, after a referral from NHS 111 or their GP practice.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, national NHS medical director said: “High street NHS community pharmacies are playing an increasing role in protecting hundreds of thousands of people’s health whether it be providing advice and treatment for minor illnesses, lifesaving flu or Covid jabs, blood pressure checks or stop smoking services.
“In the New Year, some pharmacists will be helping to spot the signs of cancer in a new trial – so when people pop in to get their cough medicine or have found blood in their urine, they will then directly refer them to hospital without needing to see their GP.
“Detecting cancer earlier is vital for giving people the best chance at having successful treatment – encouraging people who would not normally seek help is yet another example of the NHS doing all it can to make getting potentially lifesaving tests and checks as convenient as possible.”
Health Minister Lord Markham said: “Pharmacies play a crucial role in supporting people across the country with their health, offering high-quality, trusted advice and treatment.
“This innovative new pilot has the potential to help catch more cancers at an early stage, with pharmacists trained to spot concerning symptoms and refer patients directly for potentially lifesaving hospital tests. Not only could this benefit people who might not otherwise have asked for help but it will also help ease pressures on GPs.”
The results from Ipsos also found that more than eight in ten regular, occasional or former smokers (85%) say they would feel comfortable being referred by an NHS service to a community pharmacy for regular support to stop smoking.
Around 3,500 pharmacies in England are set up to offer people advice on how to stop smoking, with hospitals able to directly refer people when they leave hospital.
Ipsos conducted the online survey of just over 2,000 adults aged 16 and over on behalf of NHS England.
The Ipsos survey showed that:
For ‘those who have used a pharmacy in the last year for advice about medicines, a health problem or injury, or what health service they should use, are overwhelmingly positive about the quality of the advice that they received. Nearly all (91%) say that they received good advice.’
Pharmacies offer free blood pressure checks to people over 40. This involves around 10-15 minutes in the pharmacy consultation room with a trained member of the pharmacy team. Following this, patients may be invited to take home a blood pressure monitor that measures your blood pressure as you go about your daily life.
Estimates show that 3,700 strokes and 2,500 heart attacks could be prevented as a result of the tests and around 2,000 lives could be saved in five years.
Thorrun Govind, Chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society English Pharmacy Board, said: “Community pharmacists are working exceptionally hard to make sure that the public gets the right advice at the right time. This new data shows the public appreciate both the accessibility and quality of advice they receive from community pharmacists.
“I am delighted that the Royal Pharmaceutical Society is working with the NHS to deliver professional development for community pharmacists to further enhance their clinical consultation skills.
“I’m a real advocate for community pharmacy based services that make best use of our skills. The success of the NHS blood pressure checks through pharmacy shows that resourcing additional services through community pharmacy improves patient care.”
National Pharmacy Association Vice-Chair, Nick Kaye, said: “It’s great that community pharmacies will be helping to increase early cancer detection rates by spotting red flag symptoms and potentially saving the lives of patients. This further expands the clinical role of pharmacy teams and builds on the skills of a highly-trained pharmacist workforce who knows their patients well and sees them regularly. The findings of the Ipsos survey underline that pharmacies are a key part of neighbourhood health services and are often the first port of call for advice and treatment.”
Ipsos UK technical details
The online survey was conducted for NHS England via the UK KnowledgePanel. It had 25,000 panellists who were recruited using off-line random probability unclustered address-based sampling, meaning that every household in the UK had a known chance of being selected to join the panel.
The survey was conducted online between 21 and 27 July 2022. A representative sample of 3,402 respondents across England were selected and invited to take part in the survey, of which 2,067 responses were achieved amongst residents across England aged 16+, representing a response rate of 61%. This included:
In order to ensure the survey results were as representative of the target population as possible, weighting was applied to the data. First, a design weight was used to correct for unequal probabilities of selection of household members (as two members per household are allowed to register on the KnowledgePanel). Then two sets of calibration weights were applied:
For more information about the survey, and for the survey results, see the Ipsos website: Public perceptions of community pharmacy survey.