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Why pharmacists will have to prise minor illnesses from GPs’ cold, dead hands

15 Feb 2018

The Pharmacist’s GP blogger Dr Livingstone explains why GPs aren’t keen on an NHS England scheme encouraging parents to seek advice on their children’s minor illnesses from pharmacists

So the latest push, in a long running series of pushes, to divert minor ills from GP to pharmacy is NHS England’s Stay Well Pharmacy campaign. Hard pressed GPs…pharmacists are highly trained…under-used resource….etc etc. You can fill in the blanks yourself.

While this current attempt to decongest GP surgeries by lengthening the queues in the pharmacy focuses on minor ills in children, it all amounts to the same thing. Specifically, that the public is apparently completely oblivious to the fact there are things called pharmacies, or that pharmacies are run by health professionals, or that those health professionals can treat minor illness and that the way round this is to keep shouting at trivially ill people and their progeny until they get the drift.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has certainly heard loud and clear, prompting their bland and predictable comment that parents should ‘consider’ seeing a pharmacist but that they should bear in mind that ‘pharmacists are not GPs’.

But then I thought we’d established already (see above) that the public doesn’t even realise that pharmacists are pharmacists. Certainly, pharmacists would be forgiven for wishing that their GP colleagues should make their bloody minds up – are we overstretched and therefore keen to shed work elsewhere or are we utterly indispensable and therefore obliged to take on all all-comers with good grace?

All of which simply serves to distract from a couple of elephants in the room.

One is that, if we’re honest, parents don’t much want to see pharmacists and would rather see a GP. I’m not saying they’re right, I’m just saying that’s true, and might be explained by the fact that, as with so many illnesses, they’re wanting the reassurance of knowing what their child’s problem isn’t (eg meningitis, pneumonia, appendicitis etc etc).

For that, they want to see someone they perceive as having the requisite knowledge and authority as opposed to someone who might simply be viewing them as a retail opportunity.

And the other is that, let’s face it, for the sore throats, coughs, colds and tummy problems (presumably minor diarrhea and vomiting) specified in the campaign, parents don’t need to see a health professional at all.

Managing minor ills solo should be as much within the remit of the standard parental job description as getting junior to use the toilet properly or not stick his fingers in the mains outlet. Encouraging attendance at the pharmacy just reinforces dependency; the only thing that changes is the destination.

So if we are going to push anywhere, how about pushing NHS access doors shut to all but the obviously ill, and encouraging families with mildly febrile ills just to get on with it themselves?

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