Harness power of pharmacies so chemists can treat illnesses, MPs say

Harness the power of pharmacies so chemists can treat minor illnesses in bid to tackle patient backlogs, MPs say

  • The NHS could treat patients with minor illnesses at half the price at pharmacies 
  • This could free millions of GP appointments for those with more serious diseases

Pharmacists could treat patients with minor illnesses for half the price the NHS is paying GPs to do the same work, a report by MPs reveals.

The cross-party group is calling on the Government to ‘harness the power’ of pharmacies to tackle Covid backlogs and surging demand.

This could free millions of GP appointments for those with more serious diseases and release money for other frontline services, it adds.

However, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pharmacy warns ministers must take ‘urgent action’ to relieve funding pressure on local chemists at risk of closure. The MPs and peers have published their Future of Pharmacy report following a major inquiry launched over a year ago.

Pharmacists could treat patients with minor illnesses for half the price the NHS is paying GPs to do the same work

It cites evidence from the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee showing the cost of providing 40million minor ailment GP appointments per year is £1.2billion.

However, it would cost only £560million to transfer these to pharmacies as part of a Community Pharmacy Consultation Service, saving £640million a year which could be reinvested elsewhere. This amounts to a 53 per cent cost saving for the Health Service.

The report came as figures show more than 5million people waited over two weeks for a GP appointment in November and fewer than seven in ten consultations that month were face to face. There are 11,200 community pharmacies across England and 89 per cent of the public is less than a 20-minute walk from their nearest store.

However, thousands are at risk of closing due to the impact of high inflation and reduced funding, the report warns.

Some 670 pharmacies have closed since 2015 and the value of the pharmacy contract with NHS England has shrunk by a quarter in real terms since 2015. The Daily Mail’s Good Health supplement has been running a Save Our Local Pharmacies campaign calling on the Government to protect the valuable services they provide.

Labour MP Taiwo Owatemi, a qualified pharmacist and chairman of the cross-party group, said: ‘Pharmacies stepped up when the country needed them most’

Pharmacies already undertake more than 65million informal consultations a year. However, unlike other services, none of these consultations has specific funding attached to them.

The report says a key way local pharmacies could take even more pressure off the NHS would be by allowing them to supply prescription-only medicines and by introducing a ‘walk-in option’, with an increased number of conditions they can treat via this service.

Labour MP Taiwo Owatemi, a qualified pharmacist and chairman of the cross-party group, said: ‘Pharmacies stepped up when the country needed them most, relieving pressure from other parts of the health service during the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.

‘They have shown how much more they could do if given the right policy support and funding.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘Over the next 18 months we will be increasing the support pharmacists can provide, including taking referrals from A&E, managing oral contraception needs and supporting patients who have been newly prescribed anti-depressants.’

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