The success of pilot walk-in services in Scottish pharmacies provides evidence that pharmacy across the UK can reduce the burden on primary and secondary care, industry leaders have said.
Up tot half of patients using Scotland's Pharmore+ pilot would have visited A&E if the range of walk-in and extended-hour services, covering minor ailments, healthy living, sexual health and substance misuse, had not been available in pharmacies, according to an evaluation of Scotland's Pharmore+ pilot published last week (September 19).
The evaluation added "yet more weight" to the evidence that community pharmacy services, and in particular a national minor ailments scheme for England, could reduce the pressures on A&E, said PSNC head of NHS services Alastair Buxton. "We believe that a national minor ailments scheme in England could benefit patients and pharmacies as well as deliver financial savings for the NHS," he told C+D.
However, the evaluation concluded that there was no "one-size-fits all" model for providing pharmacy walk-in services and these should be developed in the context of local health care priorities.
The positive evaluation of Scotland's Pharmore+ pilot added "yet more weight" to the evidence that community pharmacy services could reduce the pressures on A&E, said PSNC head of NHS services Alastair Buxton
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Community Pharmacy Scotland policy development pharmacist Matthew Barclay said the success of the pilot, which launched with £1.5 million Scottish government funding in 2008, had proved that Scotland's health boards should bring pharmacy "into the fold".
He called for the walk-in model, which was piloted in six Boots pharmacies and one independent pharmacy across five NHS health boards, to be rolled out nationally.
However, the pilot had identified "universal challenges" to implementing the model in the rest of the UK, including difficulties in sharing information – such as struggling to link up with other NHS IT systems – and making the best use of pharmacy staff, Mr Barclay added.
The evaluation, carried out last year, revealed that in Grampian, where a nurse-led minor injury service was set up in a pharmacy, 42 per cent of patients who used the service said they would otherwise have visited A&E and 27 per cent would have visited their GP.
In Lothian, independent pharmacist prescribers in a Boots branch provided an out-of-hours minor ailments scheme and an independent pharmacy offered a range of services including sexual health, vaccination, blood-borne virus diagnosis and needle exchange. Forty-six per cent of patients said they would have visited A&E if the services were not available, the evaluation revealed.
The pilot scheme was used by the Scottish government's recent Wilson review as proof that pharmacists could reduce calls to GPs by acting as an "accessible, drop-in triage centre" to treat minor ailments. The review recommended that other NHS boards could adapt the models to meet their own needs.
What further proof does the government need that a national minor ailments services is a logical step for pharmacy in England?