Practice receptionists and NHS 111 operators are to be trained to divert patients to pharmacists, it has been announced.
Patients will be given booked appointments with pharmacists as part of a new NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service. The government says 20 million GP appointments a year could be diverted to pharmacists.
The project was announced as part of a £13 billion contractual deal for community pharmacists. Thirty practices are already conducting pilots of pharmacist appointment systems, it was reported. The project will require operators to identify illnesses, such as sore throats and colds, that could be handled by a pharmacist better than a GP.
The project was welcomed by the Royal College of GPs. Chair Professor Helen 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.
“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.”
Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Keith Ridge said: “This deal provides the accessible and convenient healthcare that the public really want, while offering a more fulfilling clinical career to pharmacists and pharmacy technicians as a valued part of the NHS team.”