Exclusive: Pharmacists bid to take GP work

Proposals for community pharmacists to take on greater clinical roles are unlikely to ease GP workload because patients still prefer to attend their local practice, UK research suggests.

Pharmacists bid to take GP work
Pharmacists bid to take GP work

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has proposed to the DoH and NHS Employers that minor ailment care, smoking cessation services, chlamydia screening and promoting lifestyle interventions for obesity should fall under the remit of community pharmacists nationwide.

These clinical areas carry 68 quality framework points, worth more than £8,000 to an average practice.

In future, community pharmacists could share information on BP and cardiovascular tests, including blood cholesterol levels, with GP practices to help them achieve quality framework points, said Allister Buxton, head of NHS services at the PSNC.

But research from the University of Wales has shown that regardless of the speed of service or time devoted to the consultation, patients still prefer to see their GP.

Details of the study were published in the annual review from the Pharmacy Practice Research Trust.

Focusing on minor ailments, 100 patients in Wales completed a survey that showed 83 per cent of patients preferred visiting a GP to a community pharmacist.

Length of consultation made no difference, with most respondents preferring a short consultation with a GP to a longer time with a community pharmacist.

Preferences changed to some extent when cost and waiting time considerations were introduced, but even in the worst-case scenarios the majority of patients still preferred to see their GP.

RCGP chairman Professor Mayur Lakhani said: 'It confirms that many patients want to see their GP. Other health professionals are not a substitute for GPs - their role is part of a team to help GPs.'

Giving what are traditionally seen as GP roles to pharmacists and nurses could 'fragment' services, he added.

GPC prescribing spokesman Dr Richard Vautrey said bringing in professional groups to ease GP workload often backfires.

'It's not as simple as it may seem. Trying to encourage access to pharmacy does not decrease patients going to their GP,' he said. 'One of the risks of the government assuming that patients will be able to go to the pharmacist only is they will go to their GP anyway or be directed there by their pharmacist.'

But Felicity Cox, acting chairman of the pharmacy negotiations group at NHS Employers, said with the move of services from secondary care to the community the situation is likely to change.

'As practice-based commissioning rolls out, GPs will need more time and capacity,' she explained. 'We see community pharmacists providing some of that capacity.'

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