Standardising community pharmacy information so it can be shared digitally should reduce the burden on GPs and lead to safer, more personalised care, writes Stephen Goundrey-Smith

Community pharmacists are some of the most skilled but under-rated clinicians in the community; that is set to change given the recent national focus on expanding the role and remit of community pharmacy. This must be right, given that for most people, community pharmacists are close at hand and easily accessible. The national programme’s recognition of the important role that community pharmacy can play in providing support for people and relieving pressure elsewhere in the system is an important step forward.

Today’s community pharmacies are offering an increased range of services to support care for people in the community, including routine flu vaccinations, urgent supplies of medicines via NHS 111, as well as advice and support with minor illnesses. They support people using complex medicines and medical devices, and provide the New Medicine Service for people starting certain medicines.

As such, it is vital that they are able to record and share information about a person’s care with GP practices and other services. Standardising community pharmacy information will allow us to share it digitally, so that care professionals and citizens have timely access to relevant information, leading to better, safer and more personalised care in the community.

Access to better information

Professional Record Standards Body’s Community Pharmacy Standard enables information to be recorded in the community pharmacy and sent to the person’s GP and all the services covered by the England Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework. Having access to better information will allow the community pharmacy team to take on a greater range of clinical services and reduce the burden on GPs and other parts of the health and care system. It will also raise the profile of the clinical contribution that community pharmacists make to the wider NHS.

Imagine a person visiting their community pharmacy to start on a new medicine. The community pharmacist arranges a consultation and explains everything about the new medicine. The details of the consultation are recorded on the pharmacy system and shared with the person’s GP, who can then conduct a follow-up consultation and check on their progress with the medicine – this is what the standard enables.

These new services should also improve medicines compliance and have the potential to reduce overprescribing, two major concerns. According to the NHS Business Services Authority Prescription Cost Analysis in 2022/23, 1.18 billion prescription items were dispensed in the community in England at a cost of £10.4 billion. Estimates suggest that up to 10% of primary care prescriptions are not needed. Overprescribing remains a significant issue in the NHS, and community pharmacy has an important part to play in addressing overprescribing, not only to reduce waste and costs but to help keep people safe.

More holistic care

We know overprescribing can result in physical and mental harm to people, more hospital visits and preventable admissions, and even premature deaths. There is also evidence that overprescribing may disproportionately affect people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities and people who are more vulnerable, such as older people and people with disabilities.

PRSB believes that the benefits of sharing standardised information will help people receive more holistic care, based on a comprehensive understanding of their health needs and care, which in turn will help improve outcomes, medication safety and medicine optimisation. It will help reduce the risk of errors and administrative burden by eliminating paper templates, rekeying data and reconciling medicines information into a person’s primary care health record.

This is why we need to combine the efforts of GPs and community pharmacies to tackle some of the problems faced by healthcare services, while ensuring that systems are linked up and talk to each other and that information flows between services.

Stephen Goundrey-Smith is a pharmacist and pharmacy informatics specialist, and a member of the Digital Pharmacy Expert Advisory Committee of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society