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GPs back calls for pharmacists to share workload

Treating common illnesses at community pharmacies could save NHS over £1bn a year

Mark Gould

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has backed calls for community pharmacists to take on more responsibility for treating common ailments.

Research* from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) shows that common ailments, such as coughs and sore throats, cost the NHS an extra £1.1 billion a year when patients are treated at A&E or GP surgeries rather than at community pharmacies. Treatment results were equally good regardless of whether patients were treated at a pharmacy, A&E or GP practice.

The cost of treating common ailments in community pharmacies was found to be £29.30 per patient. The cost of treating the same problems at A&E was found to be nearly five times higher at £147.09 per patient and nearly three times higher at GP practices at £82.34 per patient.

Overall, the study estimates that 3% of all A&E consultations and 5.5% of GP consultations for common ailments could be managed in community pharmacies. This equates to over 650,000 visits to A&E and over 18 million GP consultations every year that could be diverted with a total annual cost saving of over £1 billion.

Professor Nigel Mathers, RCGP Honorary Secretary, said: “Pharmacists are ideally placed to give advice and it is they – rather than GPs – who should be the first port of call for common ailments. Pharmacists can also discuss the various treatments available, many of which will be cheaper than the cost of a prescription.

“Of course, if the cough continues, particularly in children and older people, or it is associated with blood, shortness of breath, confusion, or high fever, then patients should contact their GP practice for further advice.

“GPs want to do their best for all their patients, whatever their illness, but there is a major workload and workforce crisis in general practice and we do not have enough GPs to cope with the volume of patients, many of whom have complex and multiple conditions."

Professor Mathers said the RCGP was extremely grateful to the RPS for issuing "this sensible and timely advice". "It will undoubtedly go a long way towards making sure that people with common ailments such as coughs and colds are treated most effectively - and that GP appointments are best used for our more vulnerable patients, such as the elderly," he said.

RPS President Mr Ash Soni said: “The NHS can’t afford to wait any longer to create capacity in the system. We need to be more strategic and change the services on offer to the public to make best use of the NHS workforce.

“Pharmacists are central to relieving the ever-increasing demand on A&E and GPs and enabling them to focus their skills on diagnosing and treating patients needing their care.

“Fast, same-day access to community pharmacists will be of huge benefit to patients, doctors, nurses and the bank balance of the NHS.

“The NHS must act urgently to provide a nationwide common ailment service through all community pharmacies in England. At present, the service is commissioned locally and only 1 in 3 pharmacies are able to provide it.  

“People must be able to get the same service from a pharmacy wherever they live, rather than the current ‘hit and miss’ approach which drives patients straight back to overburdened A&E and GP services.”

* Community Pharmacy Management of Minor Illness. MINA study. Final Report to Pharmacy Research UK. January 2014

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