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Pharmacist role in minor illnesses backed by MPs

By Nigel Praities

MPs have backed Government calls for a greater role for pharmacists in providing clinical care, saying practices should encourage patients to make them the ‘first port of call' for minor health problems.

The call comes after the Government published plans advocating pharmacists run more minor ailment services in a White Paper in April, estimating this could save GPs the equivalent of 57 million consultations a year.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Primary Care Public Health said it supported this move, but admitted there were concerns about pharmacists communication skills and that patients might not accept the pharmacist as a ‘GP substitute'.

The group recommended a publicity campaign to encourage patients with minor ailments to consult their pharmacist, including practices educating patients to see their pharmacists first.

‘We acknowledge that 18% of GP workload taken up with minor ailments is not the best use of their time and recommend a series of education programmes to encourage self care. Practice staff [can] implement an educational model that gives confidence to people to self-treat and seek advice from their pharmacist,' says the report.

Dr Brian Dunn, chair of GPC Northern Ireland and a member of the GPC prescribing sub-committee, said it was not the job of surgeries to educate patients about seeing their pharmacist.

‘A lot of practices are under pressure and they would like to see the burden of minor illnesses being reduced, but I don't think it is up to practices to promote pharmacists. I think it is up to patient to decide who is the most important person,' he said.

Dr Dunn added there was little evidence minor ailment services were beneficial to patients and there were concerns pharmacists may miss important signs of a more serious illness.

‘There are some people who think they have a minor illness, who don't have a minor illness and it is something more serious. If pharmacists want to play more of a diagnostic role then they have a lot of education to do,‘ he said.

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