This site is intended for health professionals only

At the heart of general practice since 1960

pul jul aug2020 cover 80x101px
Read the latest issue online

Independents' Day

Pharmacists to hand out emergency medication supplies without GP approval

NHS 111 will be referring fewer patients to GP out-of-hours services and A&E, under new plans announced by the Department of Health.

The DH said GPs were currently spending 'nearly 40% of their time advising patients on minor ailments’ but, starting from December, NHS 111 will send patients requiring urgent repeat prescriptions, or suffer minor issues like ear aches, sore throats or bites, straight to community pharmacy instead.

Under the plans, pharmacies will be given direct powers to hand out medicines to patients who have run out, without the approval of a doctor, as long as their surgery has put the prescription on repeat. The DH said NHS 111 currently receives 200,000 calls each year from patients needing urgent prescriptions.

Asked how GPs would be kept informed about their patients' medication, the DH said it would be done via a direct communication from the pharmacy, for example secure email or other confidential communication.

The Summary Care Record, which is in the process of being rolled out to community pharmacies nationally, 'will be available as an additional safety net to check the patient’s usual repeat medication and any medicine related allergies', the DH added.

At the time of writing, it had not clarified whether pharmacies would be giving patients their full supply of medication or just a stop-gap.

NHS England will evaluate the success of the Pharmacy Urgent Care pilot by April 2018, but the DH said it has already been trialled in the North East, where it was ‘positively received by patients and supported the resilience of the local urgent and emergency care system’.

Community health and care minister David Mowat, who announced the launch of the programme at a pharmacy awards ceremony last night, said it was part of a DH 'drive to meet increasing demand for services', would be 'bringing clear benefits to patients and the public', and also was 'making the best use of taxpayers’ money'.

He said: 'Community pharmacists already contribute a huge amount to the NHS, but we are modernising the sector to give patients the best possible quality and care.

'This new scheme will make more use of pharmacists’ expertise, as well as freeing up vital time for GPs and reducing visits to A&E for urgent repeat medicines.'

Professor Keith Willett, medical director for acute care at NHS England, said: ‘Directing patients to go to a community pharmacy instead of a GP or A&E for urgent repeat medicines and less serious conditions, could certainly reduce the current pressure on the NHS, and become an important part of pharmacy services in the future.

'This pilot will explore a sustainable approach to integrate this into NHS urgent care.’

The GPC said the scheme was 'sensible' and could be an 'important part of  workload management'.

Prescribing lead Dr Andrew Green said: 'GPs working out of hours do find a large number of calls coming to them are from patients who have forgotten to order repeat medications. There are mechanisms in place for pharmacists to provide short supplies in such situations but these are not often used.

'Using the NHS 111 service to direct patients there, where appropriate, may well relieve pressure on the OOH service.'

It comes as out-of-hours services are struggling with a lack of available GPs to fill shifts, with out-of-hours leads have warned that the number of out-of-hours GPs needs to grow by 30% to meet demand.

Can pharmacists relieve GP workload?

This is the latest in a number of NHS schemes to reduce pressure on GP practices with the help of pharmacists, including last year's pilot placing pharmacists in GP practices to see patients.

Following this, the GP Forward View went as far as to promise that every practice in England will get access to a clinical pharmacist.

But it comes as, at the same time, there are warnings GPs will pick up the slack when community pharmacy suffers a 6% budget cut next year.

There has been warnings that up to 3,000 pharmacies could close as a result of the funding cuts, with critics pointing out this could mean patients turning to their GP instead with minor illnesses.

Readers' comments (43)

  • Anonymous | GP Partner 15 Oct 2016 8:52am

    I agree, I was being petty and probably shouldn't have been. But it is difficult to accept criticism of your integrity and ability from someone who can't construct a sentence.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Can I have some codeine, pregablain & lorazepam please?
    Thank you very much.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Family doctors look down on pharmacists as greedy simpletons in exactly the same way hospital consultants aren't much impressed with 'paramedic' GPs. But besides that many pharmacy contractors will take the p155 and mitigate the impending cuts by abusing the system

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • P George Paige | GP Partner15 Oct 2016 2:58pm

    Can I have some codeine, pregablain & lorazepam please?
    Thank you very much.

    Many a crooked pharmacist would be happy to oblige for a healthy fee. But then again many a crooked doctor would happily wite out a prescription for ££££

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • In 1968 the Medicines Act enacted the concept of 'Emergency Supply' of prescription only medicines by pharmacists. This is not new.

    The fact that so many (generally anonymous) commentors on this page seem unaware of their local pharmacy often assisting patients when they are urgently in need of medications in this way is an indication that there is no need for panic. Pharmacists will continue to provide safe custody of medications as they have for generations.

    The overwhelming majority of my GP colleagues value and work in collaboration with local Pharmacists to ensure continuity of treatment for patients. Joint working is to everyone's benefit, primarily the patients. By constantly belittling and ridiculing the efforts of pharmacists day in, day out to assist patients in need those commentators in these forums expose their own self centred goals at the expense of patients. No doubt there are a number of commentators who enjoy a rather sad 'wind up' in Internet speak these people are 'Trolls', rather an apt description. Those GPs who seek to use commercialism or money making as a tool to declare their perceived superiority to my profession would do well to reflect on their own contractor status within the NHS which in essence is no different to pharmacists.

    Pharmacists will continue to strive to assist patients in need and will do their best as always to safeguard and secure medicines as they always have. GPs and A&Es continue to gain from this activity by reductions in inappropriate footfall and demand.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I note that none of my pharmacy colleagues have mentioned the use of SCR to help verify that the medication is a required repeat. A very useful tool.
    Also I assume that the scheme will be funded by the NHS & not a private transaction, or else exempt patients will simply stump up to A&E or OOH to get a prescription.
    Under out local scheme we can give 7 days supply, and have to notify the patients GP of that supply.
    Not massively utlised, but useful on a weekend shift.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I care. I care that the selfish, thoughtless minority demand extra resources. I care that out-of-hours services are used in this way thus stretching them further and delaying care for those who are actually ill. I care that I have to pay for patients to see an emergency doctor to obtain the repeat prescription that they either didn't order or didn't bother to collect, sometimes after demanding it be done urgently during evening surgery. I care less about genuine mistakes, accidents, confusion or forgetfulness but would have assumed that would go without saying. So, yes, I care. Is that enough caring for the non-medical poster with, apparantly, no relevant experience who sees fit to pass judgement?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I'm a bit depressed by some of the comments below this article.

    Over 35 years medical practice I have always found the back up provided by my local retail pharmacists to be absolutely first rate. Credit where credit is due - our pharmacist colleagues have the same difficult customers to cope with and generally do so very well indeed.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Agree with 7:13 - we have good relations with both the community pharmacists in the area and with our vanguard pharmacists. Emergency requests seem pretty infrequent and appropriate.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Thanks for the last two comments. It is nice to know that to some (probably most) we are on the same team.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

View results 10 results per page20 results per page50 results per page

Have your say