A new £4.99 service will be made available in 600 LloydsPharmacy stores to identify strep throat infections.
The provider behind the initiative – Celesio – claimed this would ease GP pressure and help reduce antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
It said the walk-in service will be available for any adults over the age of 18 and will include a questionnaire, examination and a mouth swab to test for strep A (group A streptococcal) infection. .
Under the plans, pharmacists would be able to prescribe antibiotics to patients who test positive for the bacterial throat infection and who meet the criteria set in the patient group direction (PGD) guidelines.
For those not requiring antibiotics, the pharmacist will suggest relevant over-the-counter (OTC) products and give advice on how to relieve symptoms.
Celesio argued that the scheme is an ‘opportunity to help relieve the burden on stretched GP services,’ given the rising pressures on NHS services and resources in the winter season.
Pharmacist Pareena Patel, who works at LloydsPharmacy Rubery, Worcestershire, said: ‘Around 85% of sore throats are viral and so aren’t treatable by antibiotics.
‘Almost a third of people still visit their GP with a sore throat yet the vast majority would be better off seeing a pharmacist as it’s a condition that requires rest, OTC medications to help manage symptoms and antibiotics, if appropriate, all of which can now be provided in pharmacy.’
BMA GP Committee prescribing lead Dr Andrew Green said: ‘This is similar to a scheme launched by Boots a year ago, and it is based on the misconception that having a strep throat infection requires antibiotics.
‘The vast majority will get better in their own time whether viral or bacterial, with only small changes in recovery time with treatment, which is the reason we encourage patients to self-care.
‘The availability of testing will encourage attendance in those who would otherwise self cared, and the numbers of antibiotic prescriptions is likely to increase, raising the risks of AMR as well as side effects for the individuals concerned.’
It comes as NHS Wales announced last week (16 November) the launch of an on-the-spot sore throat swab service in 48 community pharmacies to encourage patients to visit their pharmacist first for minor ailments.
Earlier this year, NICE said new tests for diagnosing strep A throat infections could provide GPs with instant results and potentially reduce antibiotic prescribing.
Eleven point-of-care tests were looked at in the technology briefing which said that they could support GPs when deciding whether antibiotics are required, and could cut GP visits if implemented in community pharmacy settings alongside practices.
However, GP experts warned some cases could be missed using this method, as it would not pick up strep infections that were not of the A type.
A version of this article was first published by Pulse’s sister title the Pharmacist.