Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) will push for the national rollout of a common ailments scheme, following an independent evaluation that indicates the pilot was good value for money.
A final evaluation of the Choose Pharmacy pilot, which launched across two health boards in 2013, concluded that the service would provide a “positive return on investment” if extended for a further five years, CPW said last week (July 30).
Based on the results, CPW chief executive Russell Goodway said the organisation will “discuss the potential” for a wider rollout of the service with the Welsh government, which voiced its support for a national service in 2013.
During the pilot, 32 pharmacies overseen by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in north Wales and Cwm Taff Health Board in the south of the country delivered more than 2,000 consultations between September 2013 and October 2014.
The consultations demonstrated that a national service could generate cost savings, analytics company ICF International said in its evaluation.
Despite the “substantial” costs of rolling out the service nationally and "uncertainty" in estimating its benefits, ICF said its “most realistic” estimate is that the scheme could still save the NHS £43 million by cutting GP appointments. “The full evaluation of the [pilot] provides evidence that the benefits of the service outweigh the costs,” it said.
Under the service, patients can register with a pharmacy to receive advice and free over-the-counter medicines to treat a range of minor ailments – including constipation, dyspepsia, hay fever, coughs and sore throats – without having to see a GP.
The most common condition presented by patients during the evaluation period was hay fever, followed by conjunctivitis and head lice, ICF said. Concerns that patients who normally purchase over-the-counter treatments for these conditions would use the service to obtain them for free had proved unfounded, it stressed.
Demand from patients had “continued to rise” over the period, despite varying engagement from participating pharmacies, ICF added.
Making it national
CPW is “eager” to support a national service, but “appreciates the government must also be convinced of its benefits”, Mr Goodway said. “We are convinced that it would make the best use of pharmacy skills and expertise and provide a real value for money service to NHS Wales”, he added.
Kevin Hope, owner of Hope Pharmacy in Glamorgan, told C+D that the pilot is a “great scheme”. The government should fund contractors to employ more staff to deliver it effectively at a national level, he argued.
“[CPW] should push for as much [money] as they can. At the end of the day, it saves a heck of a lot of money for GPs, so we should be well reimbursed,” he added.
An estimated 5 million GP consultations are spent dealing with the conditions covered by the Choose Pharmacy scheme in Wales every year.