Government plan set to refer more patients to pharmacies

More people will be able to access health services without needing to see a General Practitioner (“GP”) under a new proposed plan (“The Access Recovery Plan”) launched by Department of Health Social Care (“DHSC”) officials in England on 9 May 2023. The Access Recovery Plan proposes that patients now use high street pharmacies for common drug prescriptions and routine tests instead of using GP services, to ease the pressure on busy doctors. NHS England says The Access Recovery Plan will free up 15 million GP appointments over the next two years – around 2% of the total. However, some people are concerned about how pharmacies will cope with extra demand.

Why the concern?

Data shows there are now fewer local chemists than at any time since 2015. This, in conjunction with rising operational costs, continued staff shortages and reduced government financial support have been attributing factors for the ongoing concern. However, NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said pharmacy services will get £645m over the next two years to boost staffing and resources. Amanda Pritchard also said:

“We are already seeing more than half a million patients a week more in GP surgeries than we were pre-pandemic. But we know that we need to go further to expand services and transform the way we provide care.”

What will change?

The Access Recovery Plan promises to overhaul stretched GP services by shifting some of the work to other parts of the health service. For example, pharmacies are now being asked to provide treatment and take on the prescription of drugs for the following:

  • Some common ailments including sore throats.
  • Earaches.
  • Urinary tract infections.
  • Contraceptives.
  • Impetigo.
  • Infected insect bites.
  • Treatment for shingles.

What has been said?

Sir Stephen Powis, the national medical director for NHS England said:

“We know this works. We’ve seen it work in local schemes, and similar schemes are operating in Scotland and Wales. We also know pharmacy wants to do it.”

Doctors’ leaders say the crux of the problem is that there are just not enough GPs. The Government target to recruit an extra 6,000 GPs by the end of this parliament looks almost certain to be missed. When the promise was made at the end of 2019, there were just over 28,000 full-time equivalent GPs. At the end of March 2023, that number had actually fallen to less than 27,500.

GP Dr Laura Edwards said:

“I would like the Government to be honest with the public and have an honest conversation around what they can really expect from a GP service when we have so few. We need the Government to stop focusing on access – and be honest that there isn’t the service there that we need.”

DHSC Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:

“This plan will make it easier for people to get GP appointments.”

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