Pharmacists signing up minor ailments patients

Around 39,000 patients in the Forth Valley have signed up to receive health advice from pharmacists rather than GPs.

The minor ailments service is part of a new Scotland-only contract giving pharmacists a bigger role in healthcare.

This extra income could make pharmacies even more viable in rural areas, causing further worry for remote dispensing practices, warned Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chairman of the Scottish GPC.

Earlier this month, GP reported how pharmacies were opening without public consultation in Scotland, threatening practices that relied on income from dispensing (2 November).

The minor ailments service is only available to patients exempt from prescription charges who can receive treatment for minor illnesses free of charge.

The pharmacist will assess patients, offer advice and, if needed, provide certain medicines and treatments at no cost, usually eliminating the need to see a GP. If necessary, patients will be referred to a doctor.

A spokesman for NHS Forth Valley said it would not be taking patients away from GP practices: 'Patients will sign up for health advice with a pharmacy but can still register with a GP. It's mostly for people on benefits with minor ailments.'

Dr Buist said that it was too early to say whether it would adversely affect GP funding but that rural dispensing doctors could be affected.

'There is a concern it might make pharmacies more viable in rural areas where practices rely on income from dispensing,' he commented.

GPs have expressed concern that pharmacists could miss symptoms of more serious illness and may base health advice on selling products.

However, Dr Buist believed it did not pose a risk to patients: 'As long as they work within their professional limitations and recognise when to pass on patients there shouldn't be a problem.'

tom.ireland@haymarket.com

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