PHARMACISTS in England are to carry out sore throat tests in a bid to relieve pressure on GP appointments and reduce antibiotic prescribing.
Patients will be encouraged to attend a community walk-in pharmacy service as part of the new Sore Throat Test and Treat scheme. Trained staff will assess them using the Centor system with those scoring three or more offered a throat swab for Strep A. Results are available within five minutes and those testing positive will be offered antibiotics.
The scheme was piloted at 35 Boots pharmacies in England between 2014 and 2015. A study of the pilot over six months claims it dealt with two-thirds of patients who would have otherwise gone to their GP meaning it could potentially save 800,000 of the 1.2 million annual GP visits for sore throats.
NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said the scheme will be rolled out across the country over the coming year.
Dr Adam Roberts, a microbiologist at University College London specialising in antibiotic resistance, told the BBC it was "quite an innovative step".
He said: "Anything that reduces our reliance and our inappropriate use of antibiotics is a good thing. The initial data they showed using this kit showed that of around 360 individuals that took part only 36 were given a prescription, which is a massive reduction."
Claire Ward, chairwoman of trade body Pharmacy Voice welcomed the roll-out and said it was the "kind of thing community pharmacies should be undertaking". But she warned that cuts to services could undermine the scheme.
Commenting on social media, former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada questioned its usefulness, saying: "Most bacterial infections don't need antibiotics, so what's [the] point."
But NHS England’s national medical director Sir Bruce Keogh said rising demand and costs meant "innovation is not an option but a necessity" in building a sustainable NHS.
Sore Throat Test and Treat was one of several schemes unveiled as part of the NHS Innovation Accelerator, designed to encourage the adoption of promising new treatments and technologies. Others include an epilepsy self-management tool called EpSMon and Serenity Integrated Mentoring (SIM), a new model of care deploying a trained police officer within community mental health teams.