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Monitor adds weight to case for national minor ailments scheme

Practice A report by Monitor is adding to the pressure on NHS England to commission a national pharmacy minor ailments scheme, which the overarching health service regulator says could create at least £64 million in savings

Monitor has added weight to the evidence for a national pharmacy minor ailments scheme with an estimate that it could create at least £64 million in savings.  

Pharmacies could slash the burden of minor ailments on GPs, believed to account for one in five consultations, the overarching health service regulator said in its report into better value healthcare, published last week (October 10).  

The report came in the same week as both the Self Care Forum and Pharmacists' Defence Association called for better use of pharmacists in treating minor ailments.

Monitor estimates the savings created by a minor ailments scheme would come from a reduced demand for primary and secondary care services

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Monitor acknowledged that less than 1 per cent of eligible patients took up locally commissioned minor ailments schemes in England, which informed its "relatively conservative" estimate of £64m in potential savings to the NHS. The estimated savings would come from a reduced demand for primary and secondary care services.

Monitor stressed that self-care had "huge potential" to further boost value in the health service but had not been fully evaluated.  

Pharmacy Voice hailed it "promising" that Monitor had recognised the importance of pharmacy and a national minor ailments scheme. "When used effectively, community pharmacy services could save the NHS millions of pounds," said chief executive Rob Darracott.  

"However, many people are often unaware of the services we provide and this needs to be changed – urgently – if we are to make a real and immediate impact in reducing the [NHS] funding gap and freeing up capacity within other services such as general practice," he warned.

PSNC stressed that a national minor ailments service should raise awareness of what pharmacy could do and address the issue of low uptake. "We believe a national scheme... would enable us to promote the 'pharmacy first' message more effectively and ultimately help us to bring about behavioural change in patients to direct them towards pharmacies," argues PSNC's head of NHS services Alastair Buxton.  

Overall, the Monitor report estimated that primary care could make total productivity gains of up to £2.5 billion by employing several cost-savings measures – including wider prescribing of generics, better use of prescription drugs and more efficient working in general practice.  

The past three months have seen numerous calls for England to adopt a pharmacy minor ailments scheme. Last week, the Self Care Forum, which includes representatives from GP organisations and the NPA, stressed that an 11-minute pharmacist consultation cost £10.92, compared to £43 for a GP consultation.  

And the Pharmacists' Defence Association said that a national scheme could improve patient uptake by addressing local disparities in its road map for England, submitted to the government on Friday (October 11).  

PSNC called for a national minor ailments scheme in its vision for community pharmacy, published in August, which it pushed during September's party conference season.  

Pharmacy minor ailment schemes are already gaining ground in other parts of the UK. Last month, Scotland reported positive results from an evaluation of its pilot minor ailments service, which found half of all users would have visited A&E if the service was not available in pharmacies. Wales launched a minor ailments trial in 32 of its pharmacies this month, due to be extended nationally if the evaluation proves positive.

Find out more about how Monitor affects you in the reformed NHS

With so much evidence to back up a national minor ailments scheme, what's stopping NHS England?

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Pharmacist Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Whats new? Pharmacists can treat minor ailments, the majority of our undergraduate training is focussed on this, our day to day work is focussed on minor ailments. Why not use us? But only if we get numerated well for it, and not get given tuppences for the work we do

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