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Pharmacists in GP practices

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I’M no Luddite, I am all for progress and moving the profession forward; community pharmacists definitely need to work more closely with GPs to benefit patients and relieve the stresses and strains put on the NHS. However, I question the wisdom of the profession fighting for pharmacists to be based in GP practices.

There’s no doubt it was great work by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society forging such close links with the Royal College of General Practitioners. The coverage and interest generated by the RPS PR team was very impressive and the resultant discussions informative. I applaud their excellent efforts and don’t mean to detract from that.
Of course the benefits of having a pharmacist in every GP practice are well documented, but I still think (if it happens and that’s a big if) this could be a Pyrrhic victory.

Existing solution

The reason? We already have a network of over 12,000 pharmacies in the UK, each with at least one pharmacist. This compares to around 9,800 GP practices. A solution exists: we should be making full use of community pharmacists. We don’t need to invent new solutions, just make better use of existing, conveniently located resources. All this of course is dependent on solving the dispensing volume dilemma that I have written about elsewhere.

The reason I’m concerned is that if these clinical roles are provided mostly by these GP-based pharmacists, then it leaves community pharmacies in a precarious position both professionally and financially – they could be just left with the dispensing role (and there are threats to that too). Are there any of the new suggested services that could not be provided by community pharmacists given appropriate IT solutions, support and training?

Oh and it’s not about turf wars, that’s a simplistic argument, it’s about supporting the current network of pharmacies and securing their future to continue to benefit patients.

Convenient access

The recent Pharmaceutical Journal Editorial highlighted another issue in the very first sentence: “Patients booking an appointment with a pharmacist at their local doctors’ surgery could become the norm in England…”

You see the problem? Booking an appointment. Convenient access is one of the great benefits of community pharmacy: we don’t make appointments, we successfully deliver many professional services when patients need us and we practice in friendly, welcoming environments that contrast sharply with my experience of hushed, sterile GP practices. And we have fantastic relationships with our patients; after all we see them at least once a month.

Let’s not undermine the stability of the community pharmacy network for the sake of headlines. We need to urgently address the dispensing issues retarding the development of community pharmacy, there’s no doubt about that and we need to forge closer links with GPs, but that’s a two-way street. Despite my concerns, at least pharmacy appears to be on the NHS agenda and that, hopefully, is a good thing.

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