Mark Griffiths, pharmacist and director of Dowlais Pharmacy, Merthyr Tydfil, and chair of Community Pharmacy Wales, talks to Saša Janković about running the Common Ailments Service.

Service type: Common Ailments Service

Name and location of pharmacy: Dowlais Pharmacy, Merthyr Tydfil

Name of superintendent pharmacist: Mark Griffiths

Why did you start offering this service?

Because it is a great service to be able to offer our customers and patients. We’ve been involved since the service was launched.

What, if any, training did you or other team members have to undergo? Nothing much as it utilises pharmacists’ existing skills.

The service is pharmacist-led at the moment – with staff trained to filter out the people who can use the system and refer them to the pharmacist – but we are hoping as it progresses some of the conditions could be treated by registered technicians.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

The Common Ailments scheme allows patients to be treated free of charge by their pharmacist for 26 minor ailments from acne and athlete’s foot to mouth ulcers and verrucae.

Patients can self-refer into the service, but GP surgeries can also send them to us. For pharmacists starting the service from ground zero the best port of call is to speak to local surgeries and encourage the receptionists to signpost suitable patients to you. Most surgeries are well aware of the conditions that fit the service and many have automated phone messages that triage patients to pharmacy, but you can also locally advertise your service to your prescription base with flyers to create awareness.

Are there any opportunities to sell OTC or prescription products during or after the consultation?

Yes – we can refer patients into other services that we offer or sell appropriate OTC products, and this happens a lot. People get referred to us but due to age or other reasons they are not eligible for the service, but we know they need a particular product and can recommend that.

How have patients responded to the service?

Generally patients are very happy as they are getting treated at their convenience as opposed to having to wait for an appointment at the doctors. The feedback from the Government has also been positive, as they are happy with the money they are spending on the service and the take up they are getting in community pharmacies in Wales.

From our point of view the service was a bit of a slow burner to start with but it picked up significantly during the pandemic when GP surgeries were closed. Our registrations for Common Ailments Service patients have gone up significantly over the past two years because these patients were accessing us as a first port of call in primary care as opposed to going to the doctors for more mundane conditions that they should have come to us anyway.

It is now an integral part of the new contract in Wales (from 1 April 2022), so those pharmacies which are not already offering it will have to embrace it and start doing it.

Roughly how often each month do you carry out the service?

We see in excess of 30 people per month for the service, so with 20 days per working month that’s about three people every two days. It depends on your location as to how many patients you can get, but if you advertise well and you are in a town centre you have a better catchment area. As some eye conditions are also covered by the service it’s worth liaising with local opticians as they can refer patients to you as well.

Roughly how much a month do you make from offering the service?

If the patient meets the service criteria you get paid if you prescribe something, but also if they have one of the registered conditions and you only give advice as long as you log that it counts as a registration and you get paid for that.

Each registration lasts for a whole year per patient (unless they go to another pharmacy and register there). There is a sliding scale of payment based on how many registrations your pharmacy has, so it is very much in your interest to get your registrations up.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

The pandemic has probably forced people into realising that high street pharmacists especially will become the gatekeepers of primary care, treating those we can treat and signpost those we can’t – and that’s a significant change in circumstances in Wales. From 1 April 2022 some of the profit and income from dispensing has also been taken out of the contract and pushed into the service side, so it is more important that ever to get involved in things like this.

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