A trial allowing pharmacists to supply medicines for free for common ailments such as hay fever and conjunctivitis has reduced the numbers of GP consultations by more than 500 across one region a month, the Welsh Government has claimed.
The scheme, launched in 2013, encourages patients to go to pharmacists for conditions such as constipation, dyspepsia, coughs and sore throats by not charging for treatments.
Government analysts estimated that the number of GP appointments avoided per month across Betsi Cadwaladr and the Cynon Valley area of Cwn Taf – which has 32 pharmacies – was as high as 1,658, although they said the most realistic estimate was 547.
They added that their most realistic estimate of costings was that the Choose Pharmacy scheme would save about £1.4m over five years. Their other estimates of savings ranged from £0.3 million to £4.3 million over these five years.
There was question mark over the capacity of pharmacies to cope with increased numbers of patients in some regions, however.
The report states: ‘The impact and economic evaluation suggests a positive return on investment in Choose Pharmacy over the next five years based on the performance in the two pathfinder sites.
‘If the rollout can follow the same pattern as experienced in the Betsi Cadwaladr and Cwm Taf sites (in terms of the number of consultations and prescription items issued) this evaluation provides evidence that the benefits of the service outweighs the costs.’
The Welsh Government plans to roll out the scheme nationally but wants to learn lessons from the trial.