Almost one in 12 admissions to hospitals in Hertfordshire are related to medicines - and many are preventable.

The issue – and the increasing role of pharmacists – was highlighted to members of Hertfordshire County Council’s  health scrutiny committee last Tuesday.

Councillors heard that across Hertfordshire and west Essex around  £350 million of medicines are dispensed each year – with some patients taking up to 22 different medications.

But, it was said, up to half of those medicines prescribed for long-term conditions are not taken in the right way.

Councillors heard work is already ongoing in the county to ensure patients get the right choice of medicine at the right time – improving safety, sticking to treatment plans and reducing waste.

And Pauline Walton, assistant director (pharmacy and medicines optimisation) at the East and North Herts CCG, pointed to the increasing role for pharmacists.

Some pharmacies already offer a services including smoking cessation, sexual health services, drug and alcohol services and adult flu vaccination.

But Mrs Walton said the new five-year community pharmacy contract would build on that, including the provision of a new ‘consultation service’ for minor ailments and urgent requests for medicines.

She highlighted the plans to embed pharmacists in new ‘primary care networks’ and pointed to a greater role for pharmacists in urgent care and medicines safety.

According to her report to the committee, pharmacists are set to become the ‘first port of call for minor illness and health advice’.

She told the committee the aim of that contract was very much to integrate the services of community pharmacists into the wider system and to relieve pressure in that system.

Sarah Crotty, assistant director (pharmacy and medicines optimisation) Herts Valleys CCG, said: “We are quite proud of the services that pharmacy provide.

“And we think that given the discussion earlier – around the pressures in GP practices – we see that pharmacy is a helpful element, where there is going to be increasing numbers of pharmacists available – both in GP practices and increased services in community pharmacy shops – that should support the pressures  that are currently in the system.”

During the debate vice-chair Cllr Chris White (Liberal Democrat) asked whether any measures could be take to increase Saturday afternoon opening of pharmacies.

He highlighted a number of pharmacies that had ‘always’ closed on Saturday afternoons.

And he pointed to the particular need in commuter towns, where residents may have that one day to do their errands and would assume pharmacists would be open.

Mrs Walton said this was “an interesting point”. And she said the opening times may reflect the income from pharmacies being largely reliant on NHS prescriptions – which were predominately issued during the week.

She also reported to councillors that any pharmacy that wanted to reduce its hours needed permission from NHS England.