Is it time for pharmacists to take the lead on minor ailments?


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Pharmacists could take the brunt of treating minor ailments from overworked general practice, says The Pharmacist’s GP blogger Dr Livingstone

Are pharmacists fit for purpose? Of course you are. If anything, you’re over-qualified for your role.

You know a lot about drugs and quite a lot about disease but, if the average GP’s perception is correct, you spend much of your time tied up in bean-counting and shop-keeping. Hence the perpetual struggle to be appreciated and acknowledged for what you do – or could do if you were unshackled from the mundane and the retail.

But are you fit for the future? Or, more specifically, is your training? Because, just in case you hadn’t noticed, things are changing fast in the NHS. That light breeze you can feel is the first inkling of a perfect storm which is likely to blow our roles into something unrecognisable.

Specialists are narrowing their fields of interest and much work is being dumped – sorry, shifted out – onto GPs. Simultaneously, the population is ageing and QOF et al mandate that GPs spend more time on chronic disease.

The result is that, through accident or design, GPs are becoming the new ‘general consultant physician’, focusing on chronic disease management and multimorbidity (aka keeping people out of hospital).

Which is all fine and dandy. But to cope with that workload, something’s got to give. And that something is acute minor illness.

Why? Because there will always be sore throats, coughs and gastroenteritis, but we GPs no longer have the capacity or flexibility to deal with them. Besides, everyone now seems happy to sacrifice continuity for access where minor ailments are concerned.

And, fair enough: you don’t really need a familiar doc with an in depth knowledge of your medical history, attendance record, illness behaviour and family background to diagnose tonsillitis.

Which is, I guess, where you pharmacists step in. You do a lot of this minor illness stuff already. Now’s the time to take it over completely. There’s just one hitch, apart, maybe, from the minor questions of whether you’re willing, the patients are happy and the concept’s properly resourced. And that’s whether you’re trained for it.

After all, one of the oft-quoted differences between a GP and a pharmacist is that the former diagnoses and the latter doesn’t. But minor illness needs to be diagnosed and, more importantly, the major illnesses that can masquerade as minor ones need excluding.

You might well be up to it. But is your undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum?

Dr Livingstone is The Pharmacist’s GP blogger

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  • Mrs MetMORFin

    Nice to have some recognition of what pharmacists are capable of doing now. I agree with the part about needing training for additional services- my own personal philosophy is to get myself on to whatever training I can manage to get to, and be involved with new services or pilot schemes that are put in place if you possibly can. Keep up with what’s going on in your LPC area, and be a bit brave, accept a challenge and enjoy a break from checking prescriptions. I work regular community locum shifts on Saturdays with some 2nd pharmacist cover (in addition to a regular job in a non clinical area of pharmacy for NHSE) and aim to be able to offer all the same services that the manager does. I realise this is more of a challenge if you don’t have a regular place of work. Paying for your own training in your own time is a barrier to providing services but if your CCG offers anything then it’s worth trying to go.