Research Spotlight

A Lifeline for Community Mental Health

The Lifeguard Pharmacy Service

Community pharmacies offer local populations a direct link to healthcare, providing vital support to people and helping ease pressure on GP waiting rooms. They dispense prescriptions and give advice on general health and medicine on a walk-in basis. However, most community pharmacies do not have an adequate provision for signposting those in crisis.

With mental health service referrals at an all-time high in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring that there is an adequate provision to support our emotional, mental, and social health is paramount. A key challenge is making sure that people who need access to these services are signposted correctly for their needs, some of which are of a particularly sensitive nature.

A community mental health service led by researchers at the University of Lincoln, which offered in-person aid to those experiencing issues such as suicidal thoughts and/or domestic abuse, has been successfully piloted in selected Co-op pharmacies across Lincolnshire over a six-month period. Called Lifeguard Pharmacy, the response scheme, which also included researchers from the Universities of Nottingham, York, and King’s College London, is now helping to pave the way for pharmacies throughout the UK, encouraging them provide so much more than access to medicines and prescriptions.

We worked extensively with members of the public and with local services to create the service. People were extremely supportive and keen to help. The feedback from patients, pharmacy staff, and the public has shown clear support for a quality assured service like Lifeguard Pharmacy.

Identifying Safeguarding Issues

"Just as a lifeguard would provide a watchful eye over swimmers to prevent them from getting into difficulty, Lifeguard Pharmacy provided 37 trained professionals, referred to as 'Lifeguards', across eight pharmacies in Lincolnshire to appropriately signpost those who were in danger of harm from themselves or somebody else," explained Josie Solomon, who is Professor in Human-centred Health at the University of Lincoln and the project lead. 

"Pharmacy staff reported that following their training, they felt better equipped to identify safeguarding issues with their regular customers and patients, which they were previously unskilled in. Crucially, the service has left a legacy of trained professionals working in community pharmacies, who are better equipped to identify and support those in crisis."

Following completion of the pilot, which was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, discussions are underway to develop a commissioned offering via an integrated care service, as the project identified potential to use the service to support communities in a broader setting.

Community and Health Research Unit

The University of Lincoln's Community and Health Research Unit aims to enhance people’s health and wellbeing and reduce inequalities by improving the quality, performance, and systems of care through world-leading interdisciplinary research, working with both service users and health service professionals and organisations.

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Training Future 'Lifeguards'

Commenting on Lifeguard Pharmacy, Jeff Law, Honorary Teaching Practitioner at the University of Lincoln and trained community pharmacist, said: “This project has given some much-needed options and training to deal with some difficult situations that we encounter in the community. The support from the Lifeguard team has been fantastic and has really helped our staff assist some very vulnerable patients who otherwise may have been overlooked.”

The University of Lincoln is now working with Community Pharmacy Lincolnshire, the Local Pharmaceutical Committee, with the hope of training additional 'Lifeguards' in key locations and developing a sustainable service to be rolled out more widely in the county and beyond, offering a lifeline for community-based pharmacies and reducing health inequalities.

The research group involved in the project has written an opinion piece about the service, which has been published in The Pharmaceutical Journal.

Meet the Expert

Josie Solomon is Professor of Human-Centred Health and is a UK-registered pharmacist with experience in community pharmacy and primary care. Her research focuses on bridging the gap between evidence-based policy and the lived experience of patients.

Meet the Expert

Jeff Law is Honorary Teaching Practitioner in the School of Pharmacy. He has worked as a relief pharmacist and pharmacy branch manager, and joined the pharmacy training team within Lincolnshire Co-operative, designing training programmes for staff.

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