Harry McQuillan: Pharmacies provide positive influence on health of local communities

Harry McQuillan is chief executive of Community Pharmacy Scotland.
Harry McQuillan is chief executive of Community Pharmacy Scotland.
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We hear in the news of the decline of the high street, with everyone from small businesses to the larger chains facing difficulties fairly frequently these days. While hardly anyone would want to see our high streets all shuttered and empty, many of us appreciate the convenience of online shopping and have shifted over to an online world, without thinking about the impact that this has on the bricks and mortar of the places we used to and for some, still frequently, visit near us.

I think we all want to see our high streets survive these difficult financial times and those of us lucky enough to have them appreciate having local amenities nearby.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) published a report this month on ‘Health on the High Street: Running on Empty 2018’, which reports on the state of high streets across the UK and ranks them based on the types of businesses and services they have as an indication of how healthy or not that area is.

According to the RSPH’s report, community pharmacies significantly add to the overall healthiness of our communities and high streets, with other staple establishments such as libraries, coffee shops and pubs also rated as positive influences.

Examples of bad influences, 
according to the report, are betting shops, fast food outlets and tanning salons, all of which are viewed as encouraging an unhealthy lifestyle.

I think that everyone who works in or with a community pharmacy should be really proud of this 
recognition that our pharmacies 
provide a positive influence on the health of their local community, above and beyond providing people with their medication and the supporting advice, in a safe and timely manner. Pharmacies add social capital to a community, placing healthcare at the centre of their living environment.

Our pharmacies are increasingly focusing on the public health services that they can provide alongside their more traditional supply role, which reflects the accessibility they provide and the ease with which people 
can consult their local pharmacy team.

Not everyone is aware but there are already many public health initiatives which are provided through our pharmacies, such as the Stop Smoking service which is a free supported NHS service to help people quit smoking. The Health on the High Street Report recognised the success of this and has suggested that Vape outlets ensure all customers are aware that they can go to their local pharmacy for help with quitting.

Another welcome suggestion is business rates relief for businesses that try to improve the public’s health, which we would be more than happy to see!

Here in Scotland we are clearly on the right track and I think this is particularly demonstrated by the success of the Pharmacy First Initiative. Pharmacy First is a service which we offer for common and non-urgent illnesses, where your pharmacist will be able to advise you on how to treat your symptoms and can even prescribe medication where it is appropriate. At the moment, all pharmacies in Scotland can treat women with uncomplicated urinary tract infections (burning sensation when you pee) and for all people, impetigo (an infectious skin condition). This is set to be extended to cover more common illnesses as highlighted in the recent Programme for Government announcement.

Community pharmacies in Scotland are demonstrating their important role in public health provision and it’s great to see this RSPH report which recognises this.

Harry McQuillan is chief executive of Community Pharmacy Scotland.