Can pharmacies pick up the strain on the NHS? Is it a good idea?

Patients will soon be able to get prescriptions for medicines to treat seven minor illnesses under Government proposals designed to relieve pressure on the GP sector.

It is hoped that the service, known as Pharmacy First, will be launched this winter after further discussions with industry bodies.

The conditions targeted are sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women. In addition, pharmacists will take on more work checking blood pressure and in prescribing the contraceptive pill.

Both the pharmacy sector and GP sector welcomed the additional investment and the opportunity for pharmacists to provide more patient services and divert patients away from GPs.

Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, called it a ‘real game-changer’ for patients.

Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said that he hoped that the new funding ‘signals a better understanding both in government and NHS England about the value pharmacies bring to the health service’.

Nuffield Trust Chief Executive Nigel Edwards said that the measures should enable pharmacists to provide more care to patients and take some pressure off general practice, but it will have ‘to be implemented carefully.’

Edwards also noted, however, that the number of community pharmacies has been falling as their workload has risen and there is a possibility that if the funding is not sufficient for the plan then patients could get ‘shuffled between two overloaded parts of the NHS.’

Furthermore, ‘Prescribing and outcomes for patients will need to be carefully monitored to ensure antibiotics aren’t overused and the right information is given about contraceptive pills.’

Full story on The Lowdown, 15 May 2023