Using community pharmacies more could save NHS £640m a year while easing pressure on GPs, sector leaders say
Around 40m more GP appointments could be transferred to pharmacies every year if patients with minor conditions were to use them for advice and treatment instead of going to their doctor, they claim.
This would allow family doctors to spend around eight million more hours in appointments with those that need it most, according to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC).
The body, which represents all 11,200 community pharmacies in England, also calls for local minor ailments services which are available in some areas to be rolled out nationally.
This could mean pharmacists would be able to offer consultations and supply prescription-only treatments for some conditions without having to rely so heavily on GPs.
“Increased investment in pharmacy in the short term will save NHS money in the long term, and also enable people with minor health conditions to access appropriate healthcare very conveniently.
“Pharmacies want to do more to help support the nation and NHS through this Covid recovery phase, and this service would be a great start in facilitating that.”
At present, there is a community pharmacist service which means patients can have a healthcare consultation with their local pharmacist, but they have to be referred by their GP practice or NHS 111.
This puts an additional burden on GP practices, the PSNC has said, meaning it isn’t used to capacity. It calls instead for a walk-in option, which it estimates would save £640m a year.
Over recent months, community pharmacists have played a key role in accelerating the vaccine drive and delivering booster jabs, working within the heart of communities as GP surgeries return more to normal duties.
The representative body did warn though that many pharmacies are facing “significantly” higher costs compared with previous years because of inflation and rising costs.
It said that without extra support, pharmacies will struggle to cope with growing demand and patients can expect longer waiting times, a reduction in the range of services available, and more closures.
Bharat Patel, vice chairman of the PSNC and himself an owner of a community pharmacy in Essex, said: “Pharmacies have been at the heart of communities during the pandemic.
“Day after day we’ve been providing healthcare advice and services that were difficult or impossible to access elsewhere. We’ve also played a key role in the national vaccination programme and mass distribution of lateral flow tests.
“With the right funding and support in place, we can do even more to provide the public with access to expert help with minor ailments and, in the process, save the NHS money and ease the pressure on GPs.”
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