Sebastian James

Source: Boots

Sebastian James

Boots MD Sebastian James has called for increased data sharing between community pharmacies and the NHS, arguing it could improve health outcomes for patients.

James pointed to a recent Imperial College London study that found loyalty card data could be an early predictor of ovarian cancer. The study tracked the spending of consenting Boots Advantage Card holders to investigate a link between a diagnosis of ovarian cancer and a pattern of buying over-the-counter pain and indigestion medications.

Speaking at the Digital Health Rewired conference in London today (14 March), James said it showed data sharing could unlock huge benefits to the healthcare system.

“Just as we can advise our customers which skincare product might be suitable for them – patient care should be personalised and seamless, offering complete continuity between hospital, GPs and the local pharmacy,” he said.

“Not only would this take critical strain out of the NHS system, but it would also crucially make it easier for patients to get access to the care and services they need. One way to help facilitate this is the better sharing of patient data between community pharmacy and the NHS. With patient consent, better data sharing could transform the way healthcare services are delivered.”

Community pharmacies in England currently do not have full read and write access to NHS patient health records. The Professional Record Standards Body last year recommended this should change due to the nature and complexity of pharmacists’ involvement in care and treatment.

James also used the event to showcase a private diabetes screening pilot due to launch in May in seven Boots stores across Manchester, London and Birmingham, chosen as cities with a high prevalence of type 2 diabetes.

Following a screening appointment to check patient suitability, the test will involve a finger prick to take a drop of blood, which will then be analysed to provide a result within seven minutes.

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James said Boots could deliver the tests on behalf of the NHS, adding that he welcomed conversations with national and local service commissioners. He said greater data sharing between community pharmacies and the NHS could be of particular benefit with regard to diabetes.

“There are currently around 850,000 people living with undiagnosed diabetes and we want to help address that,” he said.

“As well as having community pharmacies like Boots perform screening tests, there could be an expanded role for diabetes management in community pharmacy.

“Our pharmacy team members could support with checks when patients collect their medicines and feed this information back to their GP via their patient record. That could be really powerful.”

Boots is also extending its partnership with an NHS-backed initiative that aims to collect information from millions of volunteers across the UK to create a detailed picture of the nation’s health and transform prevention, detection and treatment of diseases. Boots has been raising awareness of the programme, called Our Future Health, among Advantage Card members since last year to attract volunteers.

Funding for community pharmacies in England – set in 2019 at £2.5bn until 2024 – is short by as much as £500m, according to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, following the impact of the pandemic, Brexit and inflation.

Earlier this month, reports emerged Lloyds Pharmacy’s retail footprint was under threat in a review of all its 1,300 stores. It came weeks after it announced its 237 outlets operating in Sainsbury’s stores would close by the end of 2023 due to “changing market conditions”.