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Are pharmacists the answer to easing GP practice workloads? 


ONE of the major news stories this week has been the launch of NHS England’s 10 point plan to address staff shortages in general practice. Along with incentivising GPs to postpone retirement, the plan includes piloting schemes to introduce new grades of support staff to assist in practices, including physician associates, medical assistants and clinical pharmacists.

Saving valuable appointment time
The idea of utilising pharmacists’ skills to ease practice pressure is nothing new, and plenty of trials are now in place – both in and out of practice – to see how helpful pharmacists can be.

For example, community pharmacists across Manchester have been taking the pressure off busy GPs this winter by offering a CCG-funded minor ailments service. Since its launch in July, Manchester pharmacists have carried out some 3,000 consultations, during which patients were asked for their views, which revealed that 74 per cent of those consulted would have gone to see their GP if the service had not been available. This equates to more than 2,000 GP appointments – and a lot of time!

In-practice makes perfect
James Andrews, an experienced pharmacist working for the Guildowns Group Practice in Guildford, is convinced that in-practice pharmacists can save other members of staff valuable time: “Pharmacists definitely have skills that are useful for GP practices and can reduce workload. Each practice will have its own idea of what they would like a pharmacist to take on, and this should be aligned to the particular needs of the practice and its patient population,” he says.

When asked how pharmacists can lift the burden on GPs and what tasks they can take on James says: “There are a number of different areas pharmacists can help with, but I would suggest the following are likely to be desirable for most practices.

  • Reviewing patients with polypharmacy or complex medication regimes
  • Acting as an interface between acute and primary care when patients are discharged with altered medication
  • Reviewing and improving the repeat prescribing process (including electronic prescription service and repeat dispensing)
  • Managing patients with long term conditionsLeading on high-risk prescribing (e.g. NPSA highlighted medicines)
  • Undertaking prescribing audits
  • Delivering education and training to practice staff
  • Implementing medicines management governance arrangements (particularly CQC outcome 9)
  • Business development and maximising income related to medicines (including QOF)
  • Supporting better links with local community pharmacies
  • Supporting prescribing and medicines use for patients in care homes

Mark Robinson, pharmacy and medicines optimisation lead at the NHS Alliance, concludes by saying: “Primary care is facing an immediate staff crisis. Pharmacists can help offer a practical and timely solution, filling the workforce gap and reducing pressures on general practice. And, in the cases where pharmacists have already been integrated into general practice, they have helped to drive significant improvements in care provision and working patterns.”

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