Will the chancellor deliver a budget to boost UK healthcare?

Hitesh Dodhia, superintendent pharmacist, PharmacyOutlet.co.uk discusses how investing in digitisation and pharmacy can help alleviate pressure on the NHS.  

Hitesh Dodhia – superintendent pharmacist, PharmacyOutlet

The speech will be undergoing final touch-ups while the famous red briefcase will be getting dusted off as the chancellor prepares to deliver the 2017 Budget. It is the first November Budget since Philip Hammond announced he would be moving the annual fiscal statement – a standout event in the political calendar – from spring to autumn.

Everyone from business leaders to public sector employees will have their opinions on what the chancellor ought to include in the Budget, and it goes without saying that the UK healthcare sector will be keeping a keen eye on Wednesday’s speech.

It is safe to predict that Brexit will feature prominently in the policies that are unveiled. Similarly, perennial hot topics such as housing, tax and infrastructure investment will almost certainly gain a fair amount of air time when Hammond takes to the floor. But it is absolutely essential that the state of the NHS, and healthcare across the country more generally, is afforded a great deal of attention in the 2017 Autumn Budget.

 

Investing in digitisation

Funding cuts to the NHS have been well reported in recent years. However, central to the chancellor’s healthcare policies must be investment; the NHS needs injections of capital in the short-term if it is to provide long-term cost savings. Namely, the government must throw significant financial weight behind the digitisation of the NHS, bringing the processes used by doctors, nurses, GPs and pharmacists into the 21st century.

In the future, the investment in new, more efficient digital processes will enable the healthcare industry to become far leaner in its operations, but upfront funding is vital. Without funding in the months and years ahead, the time-consuming processes blighting the fantastic work NHS staff do every day will fail to be overhauled and replaced with superior digital alternatives.

Take the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) as a case in point. EPS enables a patient to opt for a participating pharmacy to deliver their prescriptions straight to their home, meaning less time travelling between GP and pharmacist for the patient, and a more easily managed process for those providing the healthcare. It is a simple but effective digital solution, and one that has already delivered sizeable cost savings; an audit by NHS Digital has uncovered that the NHS has saved £130 million per year since the introduction of EPS in 2013.

Evidently, more initiatives like EPS must be created – but to do so requires resource and the Government must recognise that. Furthermore, there needs to be a process to boost awareness and education around these schemes – PharmacyOutlet.co.uk’s recent research found that 60% of UK adults do not know what EPS is, undoubtedly holding back the potential of the initiative to deliver even greater cost savings.

 

Giving pharmacists a greater role to play

Alongside investment into the digitisation of UK healthcare, the government should also take the opportunity afforded by the Autumn Budget to review the role of pharmacies across the country and how they can help alleviate the burden on hospitals and GPs.

The news in the weeks leading up to Budget day does not make for pretty reading for the government. On one hand the Health Foundation is predicting that the number of A&E patients seen within the target four-hour window this winter could fall to 87%, which is well below the aim of 95%; it would also be the worst quarterly performance since records began in 2004. On the other hand, a Freedom of Information request recently revealed that waiting times for routine operations in the UK have lengthened by two weeks in the past year alone.

No one needs to be told that the NHS is struggling under the huge pressure of providing first class care for a growing, ageing population. But there are options available to the Government to ease the burden on hospitals by giving pharmacies a role to play in providing front-line healthcare services. For example, a study has suggested that as many as two thirds of appointments with GPs or hospital staff do not require a doctor.

If the government did more to encourage the British public to speak with the local pharmacies, or use pharmacies’ online services to communicate with trained medical professionals, then they could help diagnose common, everyday issues that do not require a doctor’s time. By therefore tackling routine issues, pharmacists could ensure only those with conditions that need more specialist attention are sent to a GP or hospital. Along with digitisation, such a reform would save the public healthcare system time and money while not compromising on the care available to those who need it across the country.

 



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