RPS cancer support guideline

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The NHS Long Term Plan outlines a greater role for pharmacists in the direct provision of care and clinical services, highlighting a growing overlap between the role of pharmacists and those of doctors and nurses. 

Specialised oncology pharmacists play an important role in hospitals and have moved away from the traditional operational role of production and manufacture of anti-cancer medicines. They work with the medical and nursing staff to maximise the benefits of drug therapy while trying to minimise toxicities and educate people with cancer about what to expect during treatment and the associated side effects. They also provide advice on how to manage complications of cancer treatment and can often prescribe the supportive medication required.

Overall, the role of a specialised oncology pharmacist is integral in the management of the inpatient medication plan, right through to the medication plan that a patient will be discharged with.

In the community, people with cancer often need support with their medicines and this can be provided by community pharmacists. Community pharmacists already provide services such as the New Medicines Service, and these have been adapted for use in patients with advanced cancer. Such services could be rolled out in the future.

Community pharmacists add value by supporting people taking anticancer medicines and helping them to navigate the wider health and social care system and to manage and balance side-effects with treatment. One opportunity for the 2020s could be to develop community pharmacies as not only healthy living pharmacies and self-care support centres, but also as early diagnosis hubs. Community pharmacists would receive education on the red flag symptoms of certain types of cancer to enable them to refer people to specialist services so that cancers can be prevented or identified.

According to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, there needs to be more acceptance of the role community pharmacists can play in supporting people with cancer from policymakers, commissioners, and other healthcare professionals alike.

Growth in the area of pharmacogenomics also presents an opportunity for pharmacists to lead in testing patients for genetic risk factors for cancer to support preventative measures, and in tailoring drug therapies to optimise efficacy. The introduction of technologies such as artificial intelligence-backed risk assessment and diagnostic programs, or blood sample-based cancer testing, will offer pharmacies new opportunities to contribute to health improvement.

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