Pharmacists will form large-scale primary care practices with GPs and other healthcare professionals under "radical" plans to reorganise the NHS over the next five years.
The "majority" of outpatient consultations could shift out of hospitals into these expanded GP practices, known as multispecialty community providers (MCPs), which will include consultants and senior nurses, NHS England said in a strategy document published on Thursday (October 23).
MCPs would target patients with "complex ongoing needs" and work intensively with them, as well as making "fuller use of digital technologies, new skills and roles", the commissioning body said. It suggested they could even take over the running of local community hospitals and assume responsibility for managing the health service budget of their registered patients "in time" as part of its goal to reduce the burden on secondary care.
NHS England stressed that MCPs were just be one of the options for achieving its aims, and that local areas would have the choice of adopting alternative strategies, such as opening viable smaller hospitals or developing primary and acute care systems, which would involve collaboration between GP, hospitals, mental health and community care services.
It stressed that "radical" action was needed in many areas to meet the demand of rising patient numbers and specified that barriers would need to be broken down between professions.
NHS England also pledged to invest more in primary care and hand CCGs more control over the budget.
Prevention the priority
It named tackling obesity, smoking and alcohol as a priority for the next five years and stressed that a greater emphaiss needed to be placed on prevention and public health.
The NHS would look to simplify emergency care and ensure patients got "the right care at the right time", which would involve more patients going into community pharmacies and more "flexible" referral from ambulance services, it said.
As part of this strategy, NHS England pledged to make "far greater use of pharmacists" in urgent and emergency care and educate the public to visit their pharmacist for "coughs, colds, and other minor ailments" rather than GPs or A&E.
NHS England's overall strategy for primary care, which will incorporate views from the pharmacy Call to Action, is due before the end of the autumn.