Delivering faster, simpler, fairer healthcare for patients is the priority set by the new Health Secretary. While the pandemic put huge pressure on NHS services, new initiatives such as the just launched Pharmacy First scheme will help to ensure patients receive care more quickly.
Under the scheme, for the first time ever patients will be able to get NHS consultations and prescription-only treatment for seven common conditions at local community pharmacies, without the need for a GP appointment or prescription.
This initiative builds on the important role pharmacies already play in providing flu vaccines, blood pressure tests, and other services. Recent polling showed nine in ten people who used a pharmacy in the last 12 months to get advice about medicines, a health problem or injury had a positive experience.
Backed by up to £645 million, 95 per cent of pharmacies across England have opted-in. The Norfolk and Waveney NHS told me that 172 pharmacies across the area have signed up to Pharmacy First so far – only three have not and they are not in North West Norfolk. This scheme will enable pharmacists to use more of their valuable medical skills and training.
Pharmacist will be able to help with the following conditions: sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women. After an assessment, the pharmacist will recommend the most clinically appropriate course of action which may include treatment bought over the counter, advice for self-care, or supplying a prescription only medicine, such as an antibiotic or antiviral.
What’s the benefit of this scheme? Well, the Pharmacy First approach will not only speed up access to care for patients, it will also help to reduce pressure on GP services. By directing people to more appropriate places to be treated, patients will get care more quickly without needing to wait for a GP appointment – something that many constituents contact me about.
Pharmacy First builds on other measures outlined in the government’s Primary Care Recovery Plan last spring, including tackling the 8am rush by giving GPs new digital tools.
Pharmacy First will be integrated into the NHS website, so when people look for certain symptoms that cover Pharmacy First they will be signposted to a pharmacy. The service will now be rolled out and built up capacity.
As with other parts of the NHS, schemes that reward pharmacies properly and increasing the workforce are vital to ensuring better access to pharmacies especially in rural areas like ours. The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan commits £2.4 billion to fund additional education and training places over the next five years. This includes an ambition to increase training places for pharmacists by nearly 50 percent and to grow the number of pharmacy technicians.
In combination, these measures aim to free up to 10 million GP appointments a year by next winter and give patients more choice in where and how they access care.
As services continue to recover from the pressures caused by the pandemic, this is good news for patients and the NHS and will help people access more timely care in the right place.
First published in Lynn News, 9 February 2024