Professor Mahendra Patel OBE: Reimagining the role of community pharmacy


ICJ recently spoke to Professor Mahendra Patel OBE, leading pharmacy expert and Director for the Centre for Research Equity at the University of Oxford, about his vision for community pharmacy, and how multi-professional collaboration can help the underutilised sector play a key role in the fight against health inequalities.

Public Policy Projects (PPP) is hosting its inaugural Medicines and Care Pathways theatre as part of the Integrated Care Delivery Forum in 2024. The first iteration of the event took place in Birmingham on 9 May where pharmacy professionals joined wider ICS leadership to discuss pharmacy’s contribution to the integrated care agenda.

Professor Mahendra Patel OBE, Director for the Centre for Research Equity at the University of Oxford, and a recently appointed Independent Expert Member to the UK Professional Pharmacy Leadership Advisory Board (UK PPLAB), joined the theatre and highlighted the untapped potential of pharmacy to further contribute to system priorities.

PPP spoke to Mahendra about the current developments in UK pharmacy leadership, multi-professional collaboration, and the role pharmacy professionals can play in reducing health inequalities.

The evolving landscape of pharmacy leadership

In 2023, Mahendra brought his expertise to the UK Commission on Pharmacy Professional Leadership acting as Vice Chair of the Leadership, Policy and Professionalism working group. The Commission’s report concluded that there is ‘insufficient collective leadership’ for pharmacy in the UK, and that pharmacy professionals are generally disengaged from professional leadership bodies (PLBs).

The findings prompted the Commission to recommend the formation by the Department of Health and Social Care of the UK PPLAB, as an independent public body. The board has since appointed its chair and independent expert members, involving representatives from both PLBs and specialist professional groups (SPGs). The board will be implementing the Commission’s recommendations over the next 3 years, including the development of new arrangements for pharmacy leadership in the UK.

On the formation of the UK PPLAB, Mahendra says: “The new leadership board, through its broad-based range of independent experts from across the four nations, provides a robust and meaningful structure to steer the line of professional pharmacy leadership moving forward. Whether that is a royal college with different faculties, or two or three professional bodies under one umbrella – that’s for the UK PPLAB to decide.”

Equally, it’s an exciting time for community pharmacy with emerging new services and the increasingly advanced roles of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. However, Mahendra warns of potential hurdles when it comes to determining new leadership structures. “There are going to be challenges when uniting all pertinent groups under one umbrella, as they are all resourced differently and to varying extents,” he adds.

Despite this, Mahendra remains excited and optimistic that “representation in this new setting will inspire and instil a breath of fresh air, so that those often disengaged, including a significant number from the community pharmacy sector, will come to believe that there is something in it for everyone across the pharmacy spectrum. The board creates a whole new arena of expertise, voice, and experience, including the patient and public opinion, making it a unique place to strengthen the present and shape the future.”

Multi-professional collaboration – bringing community pharmacy to the table

Beyond the Commission and implementing its recommendations, Mahendra seeks to help further elevate the role of community pharmacy. Using the Sigma conference in South Africa as a platform, he brought together pharmacy, nursing, medical and dentistry leaders from across the four UK nations to discuss the opportunity for multi-professional collaboration in the newly integrated NHS.

Using the implementation of the Pharmacy First service in England as an example, the session underscored the potential for pharmacy to engage in multi-professional collaboration. The service involves collaborative working across pharmacy and general practice to free up GP appointments and demonstrates untapped value in cross-sector working within primary care.

For example, the NHS Chief Dental Officer speaking at the event outlined exciting possibilities for the role of community pharmacy in preventative dental care, especially in reducing the levels of tooth decay in children – an increasingly pressing issue in the UK over recent years.

Mahendra feels that “community pharmacy can play a huge role in the prevention agenda. If we have the prevention agenda better resourced while we are coping with a shortage of dentists, at least we are considering longer-term perspectives.”

He concludes that the professions within healthcare are “united by providing the highest standards of health and care. They are all talking about the same problems but shout about them separately.” He calls for multi-professional collaboration for the benefit of patients and the public to ensure that health and care professionals are communicating to government with one clear voice.

Addressing health inequalities through research equity – the role of pharmacy

Throughout a diverse portfolio career, working to reduce health inequalities, especially in cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, has been an underpinning focus for Mahendra. As Director for the Centre for Research Equity (CfRE), his work aims to target underserved communities and black and ethnic minorities through championing inclusivity and community engagement in health research.

Decades of work have exposed deep inequalities in the health of the UK population. As Mahendra explains, “we have seen the same results time and time again, as far back as the Black Report, two consecutive ten-year Marmot reviews, and most recently with Public Health England’s COVID-19 Report”. The Health Foundation has also pointed out that health inequalities in England are some of the worst among developed countries and are likely to persist without sufficient intervention.

Mahendra argues that engaging communities who are most impacted is essential if we want to prevent this projected widening of inequality. He stresses the role of research equity is a key piece of the puzzle and the role of pharmacy within this is crucially important.

He uses the case of the drug Clopidogrel, an anti-platelet medication used to prevent heart attacks, as an example. “One study showed that those from Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin were 30 per cent less likely to activate the drug once taken. These populations are those more likely to die of heart attacks compared to the white population.”

Garnering evidence which is generalisable across all populations is essential for reducing health inequality. The CfRE aims to achieve this by ensuring representative and more equitable health research.

Where does pharmacy come in?

Nearly 90 per cent of the population in England can access a community pharmacy within a 20-minute walk, and importantly, the ‘Positive Pharmacy Care Law’ exists, mandating that access to pharmacies increases to 100 per cent in areas of greatest deprivation. This makes community pharmacy a uniquely placed asset to engage with communities where health inequalities are most stark.

NHS England is supporting pharmacy to leverage this position. The recently published Report of a UK survey of pharmacy professional’s involvement in research has spearheaded the formation of a Pharmacy Research Advisory Group to implement the report’s recommendations. These include aims to “embed a research culture in pharmacy careers, develop a clinical academic pathway for pharmacy and provide a pipeline of pharmacy research leaders”.

This, in addition to the recognition provided to pharmacy in supporting inclusive research by the CfRE at Oxford University, a world class academic research institution, and the formation of the UK PPLAB, provides a huge boost for the sector.

Mahendra concludes that this recognition “demonstrates the ability of pharmacy to shift the dial of healthcare in many directions, inspiring the next generation of pharmacy professionals as well as those who may not have previously considered it as a career”.

PPP will be hosting the Medicines and Care Pathways theatre at the Integrated Care Delivery Forum in London on 5 November.

The Integrated Care Delivery Forum connects system leaders with on the ground innovators and industry experts to highlight exactly how ICSs are making place based, personalised care a reality. Rather than discuss issues such as health inequalities in broad framing and terminology, the Forum asks local systems leaders and stakeholders to demonstrate exactly how integrated care systems can affect change in key health and care challenges.

For further information about the Delivery Forum theatres, please contact:

Medicines and Care Pathways – Samantha Semmeling (

Systems Transformation – David Duffy (

Data-driven Transformation – Gabriel Blaazer (