Judging by the response to my previous blog, I am sure there will be many community pharmacists who felt a huge sense of schadenfreude when NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) wrote to all GP practices telling them to ensure that they offer face-to-face appointments.
I can only repeat what many in general practice are already telling anyone who will listen: we did not close our doors during the pandemic. What we actually did was what NHSE&I asked us to do: accelerate the use of technology in order to offer remote consultations, and to adopt telephone triage as a norm.
In fact, many GP surgeries were already operating a ‘doctor first’ triage approach to appointments before the COVID-19 pandemic, whereby patients had a call with a GP, who would then decide whether a face-to-face appointment was needed – and if so which appropriate healthcare professional that should be with.
The restrictions during the pandemic further enabled us to push forward with new ways of working, and proactively encourage some more reluctant colleagues into using new technologies. We also increased the use of electronic prescriptions and repeat dispensing in order to reduce footfall in the surgery. Put simply, the utilisation of technology in general practice has been adopted at a far more rapid pace during the pandemic than it had been previously.
While there has now been a huge increase in demand from patients to be seen, much of this is a result of many having been reluctant to visit their GP during the pandemic – whether it be for routine care or acute symptoms. We are now facing a backlog of people who are, on the whole, in poorer health generally. The increase in workload is stressful, but for now it is manageable. What is more demoralising is the endless revival of the flawed narrative that GP surgeries closed their doors during the pandemic.
I feel it is a great shame that NHSE&I continues a rhetoric that serves only to widen the deep divisions that continue to afflict our profession, especially across primary care – and that there appear to be many pharmacists who seize the opportunity to widen this division further.
I am now working closely with local community pharmacists to look at ways of incorporating the new GP Community Pharmacist Consultation Service into our triage and care pathway. Local community colleagues are keen engage in this, and to work with GP pharmacists to ensure the seamless referral of appropriate patients.
Those in community pharmacy who would rather knock down any GP pharmacist for disputing the claim that we shut our doors and were just shifting our workload to our colleagues in the community are the same individuals doing those genuinely trying to work across this unnecessary divide a huge disservice.
The GP Pharmacist is a former community pharmacist working in a general practice