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Northern Ireland looks to Welsh model to extend minor ailments service

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Cathy Harrison: We need to consider implications of pharmacists moving into GP practices
Cathy Harrison: We need to consider implications of pharmacists moving into GP practices

Northern Ireland is looking at the Welsh model to “modernise” and extend its minor ailments service, the country's acting chief pharmaceutical officer has told C+D.

The country’s Department of Health announced in November 2018 that £2.1 million would be allocated to launch a “Pharmacy First” minor ailments service, available from December 2018 until March 2019, as part of the community pharmacy contract.

Under the Pharmacy First service, patients could consult their community pharmacist first for advice and treatment for sore throat, colds and flu-like illness.

Acting chief pharmaceutical officer Cathy Harrison told C+D last month that as the service was coming to the end of its first phase, “the hope is that it will provide the platform on which we will [build] on”.

“Our aim is to introduce an IT platform, and that will really facilitate change and development of the service and that would be ready…in time for winter 2019,” she told C+D after her session at the Celtic Pharmacy Conference in Edinburgh.

The country is “taking what it can” from the Welsh common ailments service to move the service “into a completely different era”, Ms Harrison said.

The Welsh government rolled out IT platform Choose Pharmacy – which includes the minor ailments scheme – nationally in late 2018.

“Really exciting and quite rapid developments”

When asked whether a lack of functioning devolved government has impacted the pharmacy sector, Ms Harrison said “we’ve been fortunate” over the last couple of years, because “we already agreed policy positions in respect of health and social care in its wider sense”.

“We were not hindered by the need to go and seek ministerial direction and approval on specific things because they had already been consulted on,” Ms Harrison said.

The country has seen some “really exciting and quite rapid developments over the last couple of years”, she added.

These include modernising domiciliary services for older patients as well as developing a “really exciting” regional network of consultant pharmacists – experts on older patients’ medicines management, she said.

Northern Ireland has also taken its “own approach” to GP pharmacists, with a “federation model” that had helped to place pharmacists in practices, Ms Harrison explains.

Workforce review

The results of a pharmacy workforce review are due “in a couple of months” and will determine the impact of pharmacists moving from the community into GP practices, Ms Harrison said.

“We are at the stage now where we have to consider the implications of this. We need to see a long-term future for pharmacists working in all settings.”

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