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Concern over pharmacists taking over GP work

By Nigel Praities

GPs have urged caution over plans to extend the role of pharmacists, despite Government claims they will free up time in general practice.

Pharmacists will have a greater role in treating minor ailments, monitoring and prescribing for long-term conditions and screening patients for vascular disease and chlamydia, under plans in the latest Department of Health white paper.

Currently only 24% of pharmacies hold contracts for a minor ailments services, but under the proposals all PCTs will set these up via local service agreements – meaning patients can get some prescriptions without needing a visit to their GP.

Ministers say the moves will save every GP an hour a day, but the BMA believes the proposals will further fragment patient care.

Dr Bill Beeby, chair of the GPC clinical and prescribing subcommittee, warned pharmacists should not compete with GPs. ‘We have a well-organised system for managing chronic disease in most GP surgeries now, but there is a risk of having two pairs of hands on the steering wheel – who is held actually responsible for the patient?'.

Medications will also be reclassified to support pharmacist management of long-term conditions under the plans, despite criticism over the lack of safeguards when simvastatin was shifted to OTC status three years ago.

Professor Steve Field, RCGP chair, demanded that the conflict of interest between giving advice and selling particular types of medication be addressed.

‘Pharmacies are businesses generating income and we would therefore need to ensure that profit does not pollute the conversation,' he said.

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