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Respiratory Health 2021

Pharmacies hold the key to supporting people with lung disease

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Dr Alison Cook

Chair, Taskforce for Lung Health

If we really want to reduce the strain on the NHS, community pharmacies need to be better utilised for people with lung conditions in the pandemic and beyond.

More than 1.6 million people visit a community pharmacy each day, providing a huge opportunity to pick up on warning signs for lung disease, support people living with lung conditions and make sure that the care people receive is right for them.

Pharmacies are often just at the end of the street and easier to access than doctors’ surgeries, which require an appointment. It’s therefore unsurprising that a Taskforce for Lung Health survey of over 2,000 people living with lung conditions found that 95% of respondents saw the services on offer as valuable and essential, or something they could not live without.

What was surprising is the fact that despite this recognition of how vital local chemists are for lung health care, many patients were not aware of the range of services on offer or were not using them.

It’s clear that there is work to do

Despite inhaler technique checks being a crucial part of basic care for people with lung disease, nearly half (48%) of people were not using inhaler technique check services, with a quarter of these unaware they were available. These checks help to prevent life threatening asthma attacks from incorrect inhaler use.

By raising more awareness of the range of services that local pharmacies offer, and encouraging people with lung disease to use them, we could see a huge change in the way lung disease care is approached.

For example, according to the survey, only one in four respondents got their flu jab at their local pharmacy. Increasing uptake could really help protect people with lung disease, who are seven times more likely to die if they catch flu than someone who is not in an at-risk group.

On top of the benefits to people living with lung disease, making sure that local pharmacies are more integrated into the way the NHS works could ensure that the pressures our doctors, hospitals and healthcare staff are under are greatly eased, in the pandemic and for the foreseeable future.

Pharmacies need to be a part of the way the NHS operates

People with lung conditions have told us that community pharmacies act as a lifeline for their care, but there is clearly still work to do in making sure that the NHS starts to integrate these services into the way care is delivered so that pharmacists can help refer patients to the treatments they need. The level of training pharmacists receive means that they are a vastly untapped and underused NHS resource for improving lung health care.

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