NHS England has doubled the funding available for its national pilot of clinical pharmacists in general practice, meaning 700 practices will benefit from a share of the £31m fund.
The significant expansion of the scheme, first announced in July, is due to ‘overwhelmingly positive responses’ from GPs, and recruitment of 403 clinical pharmacists is due to begin immediately for a spring 2016 launch.
The pilots, announced by NHS England today, will cover 83 practices in London, 230 in the south of England, 183 in the Midlands and 203 in the north, spanning a population of 7.6 million patients.
The scheme will run for three years and NHS England will contribute 60% of costs for the first 12 months – which will include a ‘training programme’ – dropping to 40% then 20%.
Practices already employing pharmacists have reported they play an ‘invaluable role’ in alleviating GP workload by taking on medicines management tasks and freeing up GP time to focus on patients with increasingly complex care needs.
GP leaders welcomed the swift development and implementation of the scheme in response to the acute workforce crisis currently affecting the profession.
However, they added that resources now needed to be dedicated to recruiting and retaining GPs in general practice.
In a statement NHS England said pilots were chosen based on their potential to improve GP access and reduce workload.
It added: ‘Additional funding was found to more than double the number of supported applications after the panels were impressed by the outstanding quality of responses.’
The GP clinical pharmacist pilot was developed as part of the joint NHS England, Health Education England, RCGP and GPC 10 point GP workforce plan.
The plan also promoted expanding general practice teams to make use of physician associates and advanced nurse practitioners, with health secretary Jeremy Hunt pledging to recruit 5,000 more supporting staff by 2020 in his ’new deal’ speech.
GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the pilots were a ‘positive and important opportunity’ to relieve some unsustainable pressure on GPs, but should be available to all practices.
He said: ‘We need to ensure that the benefits from these pilots can be extended to all practices nationally, so that GPs can be supported to have the time to see the increasing numbers of patients with complex and long-term conditions, and in order to provide quality and accessible care.’
RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: ‘The feedback that we have received from our members who already have a practice-based pharmacist is that they play an invaluable role, so we are pleased that NHS England has taken the idea so seriously and so swiftly brought it to fruition.’
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said the pilot would be a ‘win-win for GPs, pharmacists and patients’ adding: ‘By testing these new ways of working across professional boundaries we are taking another step forward to relieving some of the pressure that GPs are clearly under and ensuring patients see the health professional that best suits their needs.’