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Should community pharmacists be allowed to schedule GP appointments?

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Ross Ferguson

TO reduce the pressure on GPs and ensure that their unique range of skills can be applied to those that need them, we need to reduce the number of people making appointments that attend when they don’t need to.

If we want to change this, we need to consider why people book appointments that don’t need to, alter that thought process, and encourage them to go to the pharmacy instead.

If people knew that going to the pharmacy wasn’t a wasted trip – that they could be treated for minor clinical conditions routinely by the pharmacist when required, and that if a condition couldn’t be treated in the pharmacy that the pharmacist would be able to refer them to the GP and, crucially, schedule an appointment, then that might be the change that is needed.

I’m suggesting that the GP shouldn’t be the first port of call (nothing new with that), but that instead people who chose pharmacy first shouldn’t be disadvantaged if it turns out they do actually need to see a GP. The reassurance that they can be treated within the same timescale, as if they had chosen the GP first, might be the encouragement they need.

All this would require training, IT solutions, close working with GP practices, and a system of referral which details the reason for the referral. In return, the pharmacist would receive much-needed feedback from the GP about the appropriateness of the referral and the treatment or advice the patient needed, all which would help improve the system.

The community pharmacy team can help relieve the pressure on GPs, but it requires a serious rethink on the current patient journey, a change of attitudes, and the introduction of new systems, all without adversely affecting patient safety.

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