A “hidden army” of pharmacists could save GP practices struggling to meet patient demand, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has said.
Employing pharmacists in GP practices across England would slash waiting times and improve patient care, the RCGP announced at a summit by think tank The King’s Fund in London today (March 17). These pharmacists could help manage patients with long-term conditions and save money by reducing medicines waste, it said.
The RCGP’s comments came as it launched a joint proposal with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) for GP surgeries to employ pharmacists “as soon as possible”. They would help practices deal with “day-to-day medicine issues” and liaise with hospitals and care homes to ensure “seamless” patient care, the RCGP said.
RCGP chair Maureen Baker told C+D that the college had an “ongoing dialogue” with NHS England about the initiative and there would be a more detailed announcement “in the next few months”.
While demand for GP services had “risen rapidly”, the number of GPs had remained “relatively stagnant”, Ms Baker said. The over-supply of pharmacists meant the sector could potentially “step in” to treat patients in surgeries, which would make a “huge difference” to patient care, the RCGP said.
'Huge respect' for pharmacists' skills
Ms Baker told C+D that no practices would be forced to take on pharmacists, but expected high demand as GPs had “huge respect” for the sector’s skills. “I know lots of practices are very interested and I think they should be encouraged and supported to move on down this route,” she said.
“This isn’t about having a pharmacy premises within a surgery, but about making full use of the pharmacist’s clinical skills to help the over-stretched GP workforce,” she added.
RPS English pharmacy board member Sandra Gidley said the proposals would allow patients to book an appointment with a pharmacist when they called the surgery. These pharmacists would work closely with local community pharmacies and act as “catalysts” for the sector to deliver more services, Ms Gidley told C+D.
“It’s by no means a replacement for anything that community pharmacy does,” she stressed.
Ravi Sharma, primary care pharmacist at service provider DMC Healthcare - which employs 12 pharmacists to work across six GP practices - said on-site pharmacists could be of “massive benefit”. “We know there are roles for prescribing and non-prescribing pharmacists, it’s about getting that skill mix,” he told C+D.
The RCGP’s announcement built on plans unveiled by NHS England last year for pharmacists to work in expanded GP practices as part of a new model of care. Last week, the commissioning body revealed the 13 “vanguard” sites that would trial this new care model.
What will practice pharmacists do?
- Reduce wasteful prescribing
- Work with colleagues in community and hospital pharmacy to develop a referral process for patients
- Run medicine intervention clinics
- Deal with minor ailments and triage patients appropriately
- Review the medication of “high-risk” patients, including the frail elderly, patients with renal impairment, and those with a history of drug abuse
- Liaise with community pharmacy colleagues to co-ordinate MUR and NMS services
- Educate prescribers in the surgery
Source: Royal Pharmaceutical Society