Pharmacists should be able to prescribe routinely for patients with long-term conditions and refer them direct to other healthcare professionals rather than always via a GP, according to the report by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).
All pharmacists providing direct patient care should be given the chance to train as prescribers and to refer patients to other clinicians to help reduce 'unnecessary' GP appointments, the report says.
It calls for pharmacists to be given full read and write access to patient records, arguing that further integration of pharmacists into the multidisciplinary team can help improve prevention and management of long-term conditions.
The report points out that half of GP appointments are for patients with long-term conditions, suggesting that a broader role for pharmacists could play a huge part in easing pressure on general practice. It cites evidence from a recent Cochrane review that found non-medical staff with high levels of prescribing autonomy could operate as effectively as 'usual care medical prescribers'.
RPS England chair Sandra Gidley said: 'Our proposals mean pharmacists, working with GPs, hospital doctors, nurses and patients, will be central to taking on the challenges and improving the care of people with long-term conditions.
'The double whammy of an ageing population and the associated increase in the number of people living with one or more long-term conditions is pushing the NHS to crisis point. To cope with this demand we need a radical reform of how care is provided to this group of patients and the time has come for the government to enable this to happen.
'We can’t continue with the current model which doesn’t serve patients well and puts GPs under intolerable pressure.'
RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: 'Pharmacists already offer an excellent service to patients and provide really valuable support to hard pressed GPs, so any recommendations to increase their involvement within general practice and to train them to become prescribers is welcome.
'Patient demand in general practice continues to grow significantly and our ageing population means that we are now seeing many more patients presenting with at least one long-term condition.
'As well as benefitting our patients, a more prominent role for pharmacists within general practice will also cut unnecessary appointments and free up GP time for those patients who need the knowledge and skills of an expert medical generalist.'