Pharmacists are not a substitute and must not be seen as ‘GPs on the cheap’, the chair of the RCGP has warned.
Professor Kamila Hawthorne’s comments came after a new report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pharmacy called for new powers to help with NHS backlogs and action to relieve funding pressures for pharmacists.
The report highlighted the need for a new ‘strategic vision’ for pharmacy and highlighted opportunities for the pharmacy network to be ‘empowered to deliver even more for patients.’
It said that pharmacy advice saves roughly 32.2 million GP appointments per year, with data also showing that pharmacists identify 2.5 million patients a year requiring urgent advice or treatment and that the Government ‘must harness the power of pharmacy to help the NHS deal with the covid backlog and the UK’s growing healthcare challenges.’
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) estimated that delivering minor illness care through community pharmacies, rather than GPs, could also see services delivered ‘at much lower cost’, potentially saving the NHS millions of pounds.
But Professor Hawthorne warned that pharmacists should not be seen as ‘a substitute for GPs.’
She said: ‘Our high street and online pharmacist colleagues do an excellent job for their communities and are providing invaluable support to many GP practice teams against a backdrop of huge workload and workforce pressures, so it is right that they are given the support they need to stay viable and available for people with minor illnesses and ailments.
‘Pharmacists are not a substitute for GPs and the services they provide must not be seen as “GPs on the cheap.”
‘While we are keen to see initiatives that will ease the pressure on our struggling family doctor service, pharmacists should not be expected to work beyond their areas of competency, and the Government will find that their role is not a solution to the chronic shortage of GPs as many patients come to see us with more than one problem, and these can be complex.
‘Pharmacy also has a workforce crisis, and their premises infrastructure will need considerable upgrading to be able to offer confidential services to patients. If implemented, this is not likely to be a money-saving option.
‘Patients should be able to get high quality, safe, and appropriate care when they need it – and in many cases, they will need the expert diagnostic skills and expertise of a GP.
‘Latest NHS figures hammer home how GPs and our teams are working harder than ever – the average full-time GP is caring for 120 more patients than they were in 2019.
‘Yet over the same period, we have 737 fewer fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs working in the NHS.’
She also called on the Government to address the workforce crisis in general practice by devising and implementing a recruitment and retention strategy that goes beyond the 6,000 GPs promised and make GP workload ‘more manageable by reducing unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy.’
She added: ‘We must also see a return to 11% of the total health spend in general practice, and investment in our IT systems and premises, so that GPs and their teams can deliver the care our patients need.’
Community pharmacists are set to supply more medicines such as contraception to patients without needing a GP prescription, according to the Plan for Patients announced by the Government last September.