Do pharmacists belong in GP surgeries? The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) seem to think so – but their proposal to employ more pharmacists in surgeries has provoked a strong debate.
The aim is laudable: to enable closer professional collaboration and relieve the increasing burden on general practice. And it appears many GPs are receptive to the idea. But community pharmacy is concerned – quite rightly – about the implications for the profession. Who will pay for it, and what will it mean for our professional autonomy?
I believe the solution lies not in bricks and mortar – moving pharmacists into GP surgeries – but in integrated technology. As highlighted by London pharmacy federation Newfed Healthcare, technology has the potential to transform pharmacy and enable closer working links with other health services.
The good news is that the technology is already here, and being used by hundreds of community pharmacies. Jignesh Patel, Newfed Healthcare director and owner of Rohpharm Pharmacy in Plaistow, understands the benefits first hand. He is one of the pharmacists who have piloted the Pharmacy Access service we at Rx Systems have developed with fellow healthcare system provider EMIS Group. This creates a direct electronic link between pharmacy and GP systems – supporting streamlined electronic prescribing and giving pharmacists secure access to vital information held in their patients’ GP records.
It allows pharmacists to not only dispense medication more safely, but also to provide more comprehensive advice when offering services such as MURs, the new medicine service, minor ailments, vaccinations and essential health checks for patients suffering from long-term conditions.
This kind of technology is a no-brainer if community pharmacists are to relieve the GP burden by fully utilising their own expert knowledge, while retaining commercial and professional autonomy. The potential savings are significant, too. This extra knowledge will be indispensible when a national minor ailments service rolls out across England – a service that the RPS estimates could save the NHS £1 billion.
Importantly, it’s not just the pharmacists who like it – GPs do, too. Improved communication with pharmacy and better care for patients with long-term conditions are just some of the benefits they highlight. Soon, pharmacists using our technology will have read-write access to the GP record, enabling them to record consultations and other important information to give a complete picture of patients’ health.
In my view, the ‘virtual’ surgery is the pragmatic solution to the RPS/RCGP proposal. It can be implemented speedily to relieve an NHS in which efficiency has become mission-critical. Why not use the technology at our fingertips to enable pharmacists and GPs to work in partnership? Together, we have important work to do.
Shanel Raichura is director of pharmacy at Rx Systems