A move that will see patients with minor conditions offered same-day consultations at their local pharmacy could help relieve GP pressures, the RCGP has said.
As part of the new five-year funding settlement for community pharmacy, announced by the Government on Monday (22 July), patients calling NHS 111 about a minor issue such as a sore throat or earache could be referred for a same-day consultation with their pharmacist from October.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said the service could help address the pressures facing GPs, but warned that it should not be seen as a ‘silver bullet’.
The Government said the new scheme, for which pharmacies will receive £14 per consultation, could see millions of appointments delivered in pharmacies, ‘relieving pressure on the wider NHS’.
If successful, the scheme could result in GPs and A&E referring patients to the service within the next five years.
It is estimated that up to 20 million GP appointments per year – or 6% of all GP consultations – could ‘safely’ take place in a pharmacy, the Government said.
Professor Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Introducing a greater variety of roles into the general practice team and making the best possible use of primary care professionals in the community is key to helping relieve the intense resource and workforce pressures facing GPs, and ultimately ensuring our patients get the care they need when they need it.
‘Pharmacists are highly-trained healthcare professionals who already advise patients with a host of minor illnesses that don’t necessarily need the input of a GP, recommend suitable over-the-counter medication and self-care treatments, and play an important role in medication management on a daily basis. In doing so, they are vital to delivering patient care in the community and alleviating pressures in general practice.’
But she warned the service is not a ‘silver bullet’ to tackle the existing issues in primary care.
She said: ‘However, whilst this new scheme is welcome, it is not a silver bullet to addressing the pressures in primary care. Pharmacists – or any other primary care professional – must not be seen as substitutes for GPs, so efforts to recruit more family doctors, retain the existing GP workforce, and make it easier to return to practice after a career break or period working abroad must continue and be redoubled.’
However, recent research found that many GPs ignore pharmacists’ advice because it is ‘unlikely to benefit’ patients.
Official data has shown that four in 10 patients obtain a GP appointment booked on the same day, while 5% have to wait for a month to see their GP.
As part of the new five-year GP contract, released in January by the BMA and NHS England, practices who join a primary care networks will be provided with 70% of the funding required to employ pharmacists, in a move to bring 22,000 additional practice staff into the workforce.