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Community pharmacies could have key role in tackling poor health

Most people live 20 minutes’ walk away; potential not being realised, say researchers

Caroline White

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Community pharmacies in England could have a key role in tackling major public health concerns, because most people live within easy walking distance of one, particularly in deprived areas, concludes research* published in BMJ Open.

The inverse care law, where good medical care is most available to those who need it the least, does not apply to pharmacies, the findings show.

The government should do more to enable community pharmacies to provide more services to tackle public health issues, such as obesity, smoking cessation, and excess alcohol, the researchers conclude.

They used postcodes for all community pharmacies in England and coordinates of each postcode for the population. These were then matched to a deprivation index as well as to the type of area of residence.

Overall, 89% of the population lived within 20 minutes’ walk of a community pharmacy. Access in areas of highest deprivation was even greater, with almost all households located within easy walking distance of one.

The findings back up the recent initiative by NHS England, Call to Action, which aims to give community pharmacies a stronger role and inform strategic policy for commissioning, say the researchers.

“The role of the community pharmacist has changed significantly in recent years and there is now more focus on delivering public health services, such as promoting healthy lifestyles and modification of health-related behaviours,” said lead author Dr Adam Todd, of Durham University’s School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health.

“These results show that pharmacies are well-placed in the community to deliver public health services. This is particularly important for the poorest areas where more people die from conditions such as smoking, alcohol misuse and obesity compared to people from more affluent areas,” he continued.

“With easy access and without patients needing to make an appointment, the results suggest there is potential for community pharmacies to deliver public health interventions to areas which need it most,” he added.

Dr David Branford, English Pharmacy Board Chair, commented: “Community pharmacists provide frontline healthcare in deprived communities. The causes of health inequalities are complex and pharmacists are well-placed to understand and deliver tailored solutions which will work well in the communities they serve.”

He added: “The less formal approach and sheer convenience provided by a high street presence means they are a beacon of wellbeing and advice to many who would simply never engage with other healthcare settings.”

* Adam Todd, et al. The positive pharmacy care law: an area-level analysis of the relationship between community pharmacy distribution, urbanity and social deprivation in England. BMJ Open2014;4:e005764 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005764

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