Community pharmacy services will be expanded under a new government and NHS plan to improve access to primary care.
The Primary Care Recovery Plan will enable patients to get prescription medication from their pharmacy without needing a GP appointment.
By next winter people with seven common conditions including earache, sore throat and urinary tract infections will be able to access the service.
Expanding the role of pharmacies is part of the Government’s ambitions to get rid of the ‘8am rush’ for GP appointments in a bid to free up 15 million appointments over the next two years.
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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: ‘I know how frustrating it is to be stuck on hold to your GP practice when you or a family member desperately need an appointment for a common illness. We will end the 8am rush and expand the services offered by pharmacies, meaning patients can get their medication quickly and easily.
‘This will relieve pressure on our hard-working GPs by freeing up 15 million appointments, and end the all-too stressful wait on the end of the phone for patients.’
As well as prescribing medication for common conditions, pharmacies will be able to provide oral contraception for women without them needing to speak to a nurse or GP first.
Tens of thousands will also be at lower risk of a heart attack or stroke with the NHS doubling the number of people able to access blood pressure checks at a pharmacy.
‘Thousands of people already rely on their local community pharmacy every day and these new plans from the NHS and Government will allow pharmacies to do even more to help the public from next year. As trusted and expert health and wellbeing resources, pharmacies are ideally placed to do more to help patients and the public to stay well and in doing so to relieve some of the burden on GPs,’ said Janet Morrison, Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee CEO.
The Company Chemists Association welcomed the news describing the plan as a ‘crucial first step’ in realising the true potential of the community pharmacy sector.
‘We have long been calling for the NHS to allow community pharmacy to play a leading role in urgent care. The access pharmacies offer is essential to tackling health inequalities and meeting a growing patient need. We encourage NHS England to be ambitious in their plans and take full advantage of this opportunity,’ said chief executive Malcolm Harrison.
The plan also includes plans to invest into better phone technology for GP teams so that they can manage multiple calls and redirect them to other specialists like pharmacists.
Up to half a million people a year will also be able to self-refer for key services such as physiotherapy, hearing tests and podiatry without needing to see a GP first.
Health and social care secretary, Steve Barclay said: ‘ By upgrading to digital telephone systems and the latest online tools, by transferring some treatment services to our incredibly capable community pharmacies and by cutting unnecessary paperwork we can free up GPs time and let them focus on delivering the care patients need.
‘Together with further support to increase the workforce, this plan will provide faster and more convenient care.’