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Pharmacists set to work in GP surgeries in radical move to ease pressures on general practice and improve patient care

by Helen Mooney
19 March 2015

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The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) have come up with the plans in a bid to ease current pressures in general practice and address the severe shortage of GPs.

They say that the move will improve patient safety, care and, crucially, reduce waiting times for GP appointments.

GPs and their teams are estimated to make 370m patient consultations this year – 70m more than five years ago – due to an ageing population and more patients being treated for long-term and complex conditions.

But as demand has risen rapidly, the number of GPs in England has remained relatively stagnant.

By contrast there is an over-supply of pharmacists who train as clinicians for five years – one year less than a doctor, one year more than a nurse – and could step in to treat patients directly at the surgery.

According to RCGP research, there will be 67m occasions during 2015 when patients will have to wait a week or more to see a GP or practice nurse.

The RCGP is calling for an increase in the NHS budget for general practice to be increased to 11% by 2017 – it is currently just over 8% – and for 8,000 more GPs in England by the end of the next parliament.

The proposals launched today are the latest in a line of joint initiatives from the RCGP and the RPS to encourage closer working between GPs and pharmacists.

Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the RCGP, said: “Waiting times for a GP appointment are now a national talking point – and a national cause for concern, not least amongst GPs themselves.

“But, even if we were to get an urgent influx of extra funding and more GPs, we could not turn around the situation overnight due to the length of time it takes to train a GP.

“Yet we already have a ‘hidden army’ of highly-trained pharmacists who could provide a solution.

“Practice -based pharmacists, working as part of the clinical team, would relieve the pressure on GPs and make a huge difference to patient care.

“This isn’t about having a pharmacy premises within a surgery, but about making full use of the pharmacist’s clinical skills to help patients and the over-stretched GP workforce.”