Patients to be referred to pharmacists for minor conditions

PATIENTS in England are to be offered same-day pharmacy appointments for minor conditions in order to ease pressure on the wider NHS.

The Department of Health and Social Care has announced that the new NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service will offer local pharmacy appointments to anyone calling NHS 111 about minor conditions, such as earache or a sore throat. GPs and A&E could start to refer patients to the service over the next five years if testing is successful.

Patients will still have the option to see their GP or attend A&E, but it is estimated that up to 6 per cent of all GP consultations could be safely transferred to a community pharmacy, which is the equivalent of 20 million appointments per year.

Pharmacists receive five years of training which provides expert knowledge of medicines and drug interactions, and the NHS says it wants to make better use of these skills. The new service is part of a list of services being announced as part of the new five-year Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework, which will take effect from October.

The framework focuses on prevention, urgent care and medicines safety to help more people stay well in their community. Areas the framework will expand over the next five years include online training for all pharmacists to spot the early signs of sepsis, developing and testing an early detection service to help identify people who may have undiagnosed cardiovascular disease, and introducing proactive medicine safety checks to avoid patients receiving dangerous combinations of drugs.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: "Pharmacists are integral to community health and I want to move towards the French model, where they offer a wider range of services and play a stronger role in the community.

"Every day more than a million people use our community pharmacies in England and we want to support our incredible pharmacists to unlock their full potential, helping them offer more health advice and support more patients as part of our Long Term Plan for the NHS."

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the RCGP, commented: "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.

"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."