Pharmacies will be able to offer patients with minor health issues same-day appointments as part of a new deal announced by the government.
This 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 although patients will continue to have the option to see their GP or attend A&E.
If testing is successful, GPs and A&E will also start to refer patients to the service over the next five years and GP leaders have welcomed the potential of such an approach to ease pressure on general practices.
The new service is part of a list of services being announced within 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. It gives almost £13bn to expand the role of community pharmacy, while continuing to support the introduction of new services over the course of the five-year contract.
One of the aims is to make better use of pharmacists’ skills and expert knowledge of medicines and drug interactions.
The government says it hopes the new service will see millions of appointments being provided by community pharmacists where appropriate, relieving pressure on the wider NHS.
It is estimated that as many as 6% of all GP consultations could be safely transferred to a community pharmacy – the equivalent of around 20 million GP appointments per year.
The new framework will also involve:
- 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
- checking all patients with diabetes who come to the pharmacy to ensure they have had their annual foot and eye check
- hepatitis C testing for those enrolled in needle exchange programmes
- 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 Royal College of GPs, 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.”