Community Pharmacy Project Planning

I have been asked to be part of a project in South West London that is trialling the further inclusion of pharmacies and pharmacists in the early diagnosis of cancers.

In the UK we’re not great at recognising that pharmacists really are an overqualified underused medical resources in our stretched NHS system.

We know from research carried out (and logical paths of thinking) that many people will pick up an ‘over the counter’ quick fix for a cough, cold, ache or pain etc rather than going to the family doctor/GP. This has got much more frequent in habit since changes to many GP practices whereby appointments are not easily made and indeed to do so, for some, means taking the day off work to arrange the appointment!

We also know there are large numbers of people in the UK who have not signed up with a GP. They’ve perhaps moved areas in the UK, moved from overseas, don’t speak the language, cultural differences or can’t guarantee a female GP or perhaps the paperwork is too much for them. There are many reasons.

We know that many people will also visit the same pharmacy on the way to work, school drop-off, work or to the train station. Pharmacists see much more than we think and indeed are able to look at patterns of habits.

A good community pharmacist will also know a little about each customer. They will ask questions and be discrete. They will and should be able to let someone know when they should in fact be seeing a GP or perhaps have concern about the ‘over the counter’ medicine that is being taken whilst also knowing what is ‘prescribed’.

Pharmacists however don’t have the ability to refer patients in for scans if they believe something to be far more wrong than a simple cough…. Well until now!

This project is working with a number of community pharmacies to see if they can identify early people with lung cancer. For example if someone comes into the pharmacy very very regularly coughing and buying a linctus, it could be deemed as a sign that there is something more wrong. Or perhaps they’re constantly buying bottles of gaviscon, it could be deemed as a sign of something else.

They have the opportunity to discuss other symptoms with the customer and perhaps to urge them to seek further medical advice.

This particular project is looking at the ability of pharmacists being able to refer directly to hospital for relevant scans/checks based on the symptoms, questions and responses.

If a customer is ‘cared for’ by a pharmacist and urged to go straight to hospital, don’t you think they’d do that straight away. If they were urged to get an appointment with their GP, they may not have one or they can’t afford to take a day off work etc so it may pass and they may buy their ‘over the counter’ medicines from another pharmacy.

It will truly be very interesting to watch this project take shape and see if we can identify a marked improvement in the early diagnosis of lung cancer (the main one that we’re targeting first and that we will be able to monitor results). If so, it would be something that we would look at rolling out nationwide AND look at what other conditions could be covered in this project… not just cancer but other conditions that require early detection and diagnosis.

Watch this space.

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