NHS 24 in Scotland is giving senior pharmacists and nurses extra training to triage and prescribe medicine over the phone without the patient seeing a doctor.
It is hoped the scheme, which will be trialled this winter, will take pressure off overstretched front line services including GP out of hours.
A statement from NHS 24 said the professionals would be operating in their own area of competence and prescribing using strict guidelines.
But they stressed this was for patients with new health problems, not those who had run of of their regular medication.
Under the scheme, patients would be triaged by a pharmacist or nurse who had completed the additional training and any prescription could be picked up from the nearest open pharmacy, ‘saving the patient significant time’.
Workforce shortages have led to out of hours services struggling to fill shifts with some centres having to be closed temporarily.
‘NHS 24 employs a range of health professionals, including senior pharmacists and nursing staff,’ medical director Dr Laura Ryan said
‘During the coming winter, some of these senior clinical staff will have extra training, which allows them to safely triage and prescribe medicines for some patients with new health problems.
‘Due to the individual way we assess people it is not possible to define who exactly would get a prescription as it would be based on the presenting symptoms of the caller.
‘This is in line with current practice in all health boards,’ Dr Ryan added.
She said people with minor ailments should seek help in the first instance from the pharmacy.
Dr Andrew Buist, chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP Committee, said: ‘GP practices have provided phone consultations for many years and where appropriate this can result in patients being diagnosed and prescribed medication.
‘Provided the health professionals working on this NHS 24 service are operating within their clinical competencies this can be a useful additional option for patients to access care.’
The news comes as the NHS in England is due to roll out the online version of its urgent care service NHS 111 to all patients via the next NHS App by the end of the year.