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Pharmacists to have fundamental role in cutting GP workload

The new contract looks set to endorse the management of minor illnesses by pharmacists as a 'fundamental' way of controlling workload, following successful results from a pharmacy pilot scheme.

GPC negotiators said a scheme in north Tyneside, which showed referring patients to a pharmacist was safe and could save nearly 3,000 GP consultations over two years, could be adopted nationally under the new contract.

The scheme involved three practices and 13 pharmacies. Patients with minor illnesses, such as upper respiratory tract or gastrointestinal infections, who were eligible for a free prescription were given a leaflet directing them to a pharmacist.

The patient could choose whether to wait to see a GP, or take the leaflet containing two vouchers for medication and see a pharmacist taking part in the pilot. Patients referred inappropriately would be fast-tracked back to the GP.

GPC joint-deputy chair Dr Simon Fradd said such schemes were fundamental to reduce GP workload: 'I would be very surprised if we don't see something of it in the new contract.'

Dr Ian Spencer, director of clinical governance at Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Strategic Health Authority who led the north Tyneside pilot, said 3,665 vouchers had been used in the study. He estimated three-quarters of these patients would otherwise have seen a GP or practice nurse.

Dr Spencer, a former GP, said the scheme seemed cost-effective and safe. The average cost of medication plus consultation was £6.31, which included a £1.50 pharmacist fee and average item cost of £2.92.

This compared with the £10 average cost of an item on FP10 prescription plus the £15 average GP consultation cost.

Dr Sameh Mishreki, a GP in the pilot scheme in Houghton Le Spring, Tyne and Wear, said: 'It's absolutely brilliant. If you cut down consultations for minor illnesses then you can free the system for other things.'

Dr Ruth Jenkinson, another GP in the pilot scheme in South Shields, Tyne and Wear, said patients could pick up self-care leaflets at the pharmacist on managing minor illnesses.

Five weeks to

go: what are the

remaining issues?

Pricing Delayed as Department of Health is holding back data on GPs' earnings. GPC has requested urgent meeting with ministers.

Quality framework Government determined 48-hour access target is included. GPC equally committed to leaving it out. GPC has reversed decision to publish evidence for quality markers for fear GPs will anticipate what the markers will contain.

Weighted capitation formula York University formula was due in June but GPC asked for more workload factors to be included. Work ongoing.

Pensions GPC said no new contract unless GP pensions addressed. Now says pensions cannot be sorted until contract is priced and officials know how much money remains.

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