NHS England unveils £15m fund to employ pharmacists in GP practices

NHS England has announced plans to part-fund clinical pharmacists in GP practices under a £15m pilot scheme.

Simon Stevens: £15m fund to employ pharmacists in GP surgeries (Photo: Alex Deverill)
Simon Stevens: £15m fund to employ pharmacists in GP surgeries (Photo: Alex Deverill)

The three-year programme aims to employ 250 clinical pharmacists. 

NHS England will part-fund these staff, with additional funding from practices, to help relieve workload pressure on GPs and provide a wider range of services for patients. Employed directly by practices, the new pharmacists will help manage long-term conditions, provide advice for those with multiple medications, and better access to health checks.

The £15m, part of the £1bn primary care infrastrucure fund, will cover 60% of pay costs for the pharmacists in the first 12 months of employment, 40% for the second and 20% for the third year. NHS England will also fund a development programme for the clinical pharmacists and development support for practices involved in the pilot.

Practices can apply to take part in the scheme. Priority will be given to practices in under-doctored areas which can demonstrate challenges in recruitment and retention of GPs and clinical staff.

GP new deal

The plans are part of the government’s new deal for GPs first outlined by Jeremy Hunt last month and come following collaborative work with the RCGP, the GPC, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Health Education England.

Jeremy Hunt has pledged to recruit around 5,000 new GPs by 2020 plus 5,000 practice nurses, district nurses, physicians’ associates and pharmacists.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: ‘Tapping into the skills of clinical pharmacists should help expand care and relieve some of the pressure that GPs are clearly under. This isn’t a silver bullet but it is a practical and constructive contribution to the wider challenge.’

RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said: ‘GPs are struggling to cope with unprecedented workloads and patients in some parts of the country are having to wait weeks for a GP appointment yet we have a "hidden army" of highly trained pharmacists who could provide a solution.

'They will not be substitutes for GPs, but will work closely with us as part of the practice team to resolve day to day medicine issues, particularly for patients with long term conditions who are taking a number of different medications. This has the potential to have a major impact on patient care and safety, as well as reducing waiting times for GP appointments.

‘This arrangement is already running successfully in some GP surgeries and we hope that this £15m pilot scheme will be a catalyst for more GPs and their teams to participate.’

GPC training, education and workforce subcommittee chairman Dr Krishna Kasaraneni said: ‘It is important that we look at how pharmacists can work more efficiently within general practice and relieve some of the unprecedented pressure on GP services.  We will need to look closely at how these pilots operate and ensure that the clinical benefits of the scheme are clear. Alongside the new funding that the BMA's Northern Ireland GP committee has recently secured for pharmacy services in its area, this is an encouraging sign that the potential and importance of the pharmacy sector is being recognised.’a

Examples of work the new pharmacists could cover:

  • Providing clinical advice and expertise on treatments.

  • Developing bespoke medicine plans for individual patients.

  • Establishing ongoing professional relationships with individual patients

  • Assisting with communication across a patient’s care pathway, including with GPs, hospitals and social care. 

  • Monitoring patients with complex long term conditions such as hypertension or diabetes.

  • Managing repeat prescription requests.

  • Increasing the uptake of new medicines.

  • Managing medicines shortages by suggesting suitable alternatives where appropriate.

  • Supporting innovation and clinical research where appropriate.

  • Mentoring newer pharmacists.

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