GPs should employ army of pharmacists to ease pressure, says RCGP

Pharmacists could be employed as part of GP practice teams across England to help ease pressure on general practice and cut rising waits for appointments under 'radical' plans unveiled by the RCGP.

Dr Maureen Baker: pharmacist scheme to ease GP pressure (Photo: Pete Hill)
Dr Maureen Baker: pharmacist scheme to ease GP pressure (Photo: Pete Hill)

The scheme, launched by the college in tandem with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), aims to deploy a the UK’s ‘hidden army’ of pharmacists in GP practices.

BMA leaders backed the plans, but warned that inadequate GP premises meant many practices may be unable to take on extra staff.

While there is a shortage of GPs, the colleges point out, there is an oversupply of pharmacists – clinicians who train for just a year less than doctors, and a year more than nurses.

Under the proposals, pharmacists would be integrated with practice teams in the same way as practice nurses, working closely with GPs to ‘resolve day-to-day medicine issues, particularly for patients with long-term conditions’ who may be taking multiple medications.

GP waiting times

RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said: ‘Waiting times for a GP appointment are now a national talking point – and a national cause for concern, not least amongst GPs themselves.

‘But, even if we were to get an urgent influx of extra funding and more GPs, we could not turn around the situation overnight due to the length of time it takes to train a GP.

‘Yet we already have a hidden army of highly-trained pharmacists who could provide a solution.

‘Practice-based pharmacists, working as part of the clinical team, would relieve the pressure on GPs and make a huge difference to patient care.

‘This isn’t about having a pharmacy premises within a surgery, but about making full use of the pharmacist’s clinical skills to help patients and the over-stretched GP workforce.’

GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘Placing more pharmacists into GP practice teams is a move the BMA has been advocating for some time. This proposal has the potential to improve the skills mix in local GP services and raise the number of healthcare professionals on hand to provide help to patients.’

But he warned that the scheme would need significant new resources to employ the pharmacists in practices, and pointed to a recent BMA poll that found seven out of 10 practices did not have room to expand services.

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