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Supporting the NHS Q1 2022

Can high street health provide solutions to NHS challenges?

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Dr Lisa Cameron

MP Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group on Health (APHG)

Becky Rice

Head of Health, Policy Connect

Throughout the pandemic, the health and care workforce have gone above and beyond, saving lives and caring for the most vulnerable in the hardest of circumstances. 

An important, but often overlooked, aspect of the health service, are providers of health on the high street. Pharmacists, dentists and other services faced the same challenges as primary and secondary care in protecting patients and staff from COVID-19, but often found themselves to be the most accessible local health providers.

Making better use of the tools we have

The Government could acknowledge and increase the contribution of high street health roles through policy, including elective recovery planning and the Health and Care Bill, reorganising the health service structure.

Elective care recovery means more training, recruiting new staff and investing in new resources and solutions which take time to implement. However, high street health has shown us the potential associated with making better use of the tools we have. Pharmacists, dentists, opticians and other professionals have a skill set that could be mobilised to promote prevention and personalised, place-based care. Local health care professionals see more patients in total than other primary and secondary care services.

We need to provide career long training for staff and embed record sharing and digital tools.

Expanding roles within high street health

This vision of care can be achieved through the expansion of existing roles. Training and career development supports staff and relieves pressure on other services. High street health could provide routine vaccinations, minor injury assessments and referral into secondary care for concerning symptoms. Expanded roles can aid in diagnostics, management of long-term conditions and independent living. Furthermore, accessible services on the high street can contribute to reducing health inequality across the life course, improving the experience of navigating the health service for both patients and staff.

To support this shift toward high street health, the elective backlog recovery and other government plans must integrate these services more effectively into the wider health service. We need to provide career long training for staff and embed record sharing and digital tools to allow patients and professionals, regardless of location, to communicate effectively and ensure the best possible care.

Calling policy-makers to take action

The pandemic has demonstrated the pace and scale of change that is possible within the health service. Through the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Health Group, the challenges have been revealed, but so have possible solutions. Policy-makers have a chance to do more than recover the NHS, we can work together to make lasting reforms for the benefit of staff and patients.

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