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'No scenario' where digital minor ailments schemes benefit patients

A pharmacy group director has said he "struggles to see any scenario" where the chief pharmaceutical officer's vision of "digitally-led" minor ailments schemes would have “any benefits to the patient or the NHS”.

Peter Burrows, pharmacist and director of 11-strong chain M & B Healthcare, told C+D last week (November 10) a digital alternative to existing minor ailments schemes would “only lead to more barriers to treatment for the elderly and vulnerable”, while “adding cost and bureaucracy to an already overburdened NHS”.

Mr Burrows was responding to comments from England's chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge on the trend for decommissioning pharmacy-led minor ailments schemes.

Dr Ridge told the all-party pharmacy group (APPG) last month that he believes “we’re in a transition phase from the traditional minor ailments scheme, through to something that is much more digitally-led”.

In response, Mr Burrows told C+D: “Traditional minor ailments schemes [are] inexpensive, easily accessed without appointment [and] in the heart of communities that need them most.”

“What we predicted has occurred”

Mr Burrows predicted earlier this year that his local clinical commissioning group’s (CCG’s) decision to scrap its minor ailments scheme would increase health inequalities. Last week, he told C+D: “What we predicted has occurred.”

“Health inequality across Wirral is increasing,” Mr Burrows claimed. “We can offer treatments for the patients to purchase, but a lot of them simply cannot afford it.”

He also claimed that families are making appointments with GPs, in the hope they will be prescribed the required medication.

“This is taking up valuable GP resources. More worryingly, certain ailments are going untreated.”

“Well-used and valued by patients”

Nat Mitchell, pharmacist and director of JWW Allison and Sons in Cockermouth, told C+D his pharmacy delivers a CCG-commissioned minor ailments service.

“The scheme is limited to [pharmacy] medicines, but it is well-used and valued by patients,” Mr Mitchell said.

“Cutting the pharmacy budget or number of commissioned services will undoubtedly result in increased waiting times, poorer provision and increased costs elsewhere in the system.”

At the APPG meeting last month, Dr Ridge pointed to NHS 111 as an example of a “digital pathway” aimed at managing minor ailments. But Mr Mitchell argued that any service led by NHS 111 would be “convoluted and expensive”.

He added that his pharmacy has “deregistered” from the pilot scheme that directs patients who call NHS 111 for urgent repeat medication to a community pharmacy, as it was “so poorly thought out and executed”.

Ensuring NHS England implements the government commitment for every CCG to commission a minor ailments scheme by 2018 was one of the recommendations in the ‘Murray’ review into pharmacy services – which Dr Ridge revealed in the same APPG meeting last month that NHS England will not be responding to.

Is your local minor ailments scheme under threat?

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