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Are pharmacists the answer to easing practice workloads?

by in NHS, Political, Staff

Pharmacist at workAre pharmacists the answer to easing practice workloads? Or can pharmacists ease practice workloads?

One of the major news stories this week has been the launch of NHS England’s 10 point plan to address staff shortages in general practice. Along with incentivising GPs to postpone retirement, the plan includes piloting schemes to introduce new grades of support staff to assist in practices, including physician associates, medical assistants and clinical pharmacists.

Saving valuable appointment time

The idea of utilising pharmacists’ skills to ease practice pressure is nothing new and plenty of trials are now in place – both in and out of practice – to see how helpful pharmacists can be.

For example, community pharmacists across Manchester have been taking the pressure off busy GPs this winter by offering a CCG-funded minor ailments service. Since its launch in July, Manchester pharmacists have carried out some 3,000 consultations, during which patients were asked for their views, which revealed that 74% of those consulted would have gone to see their GP if the service had not been available. This equates to more than 2,000 GP appointments – and a lot of time!

In-practice makes perfect

James Andrews, an experienced pharmacist working for the Guildowns Group Practice in Guildford, is convinced that in-practice pharmacists can save other members of staff valuable time. He says: “Pharmacists definitely have skills that are useful for GP practices and can reduce workload. Each practice will have its own idea of what they would like a pharmacist to take on, and this should be aligned to the particular needs of the practice and its patient population.”

When asked how pharmacists can lift the burden on GPs and what tasks they can take on James says: “There are a number of different areas pharmacists can help with, but I would suggest the following are likely to be desirable for most practices.

  1. Reviewing patients with polypharmacy or complex medication regimes
  2. Acting as an interface between acute and primary care when patients are discharged with altered medication
  3. Reviewing and improving the repeat prescribing process (including electronic prescription service and repeat dispensing)
  4. Managing patients with long term conditions
  5. Leading on high-risk prescribing (e.g. NPSA highlighted medicines)
  6. Undertaking prescribing audits
  7. Delivering education and training to practice staff
  8. Implementing medicines management governance arrangements (particularly CQC outcome 9)
  9. Business development and maximising income related to medicines (including QOF)
  10. Supporting better links with local community pharmacies
  11. Supporting prescribing and medicines use for patients in care homes

Mark Robinson, medicines, pharmacy and medicines optimisation lead at the NHS Alliance, concludes by saying:  said: “Primary care is facing an immediate staff crisis. Pharmacists can help offer a practical and timely solution, filling the workforce gap and reducing pressures on general practice. And, in the cases where pharmacists have already been integrated into general practice, they have helped to drive significant improvements in care provision and working patterns.”

What do you think about employing the services of in-house pharmacists? How can they help you? Would it be worth joining forces with local pharmacies? Comment below or take it to the forum where your discussions are only seen by fellow Practice Managers. 

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One Response to “Are pharmacists the answer to easing practice workloads?”
  1. Avatar
    Shaun Hockey Says:

    I don’t think that utilising the skills, knowledge and experience of pharmacists is the silver bullet that will solve all the problems of general practice, but I do think they can make a real difference to both patient outcomes and medicines optimisation.

    I have to admit that I am biased – I’m a pharmacist with over 20 years experience and unfortunately for me, these opportunities have come too late. However there are lots of great clinical pharmacists whose skills are under utilised in their current roles.

    Pharmacists with post grad clinical diplomas and independent prescriber status who are eager to make their mark and work as part of a full multi-disciplinary team.

    One word of warning though: Most PMs experience of pharmacists are with their local community pharmacist and this may not be the right person to make a real difference in your practice. Look for clinical pharmacist with a post grad qualification or previous experience in primary care or practice work.

    Costs for pharmacists will be around 40-45% of those of a locum GP and if you can get them focusing on all medicines related queries, you will see real return on the investment of pharmacist cover.


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