Community pharmacists could deliver more out-of-hours vaccinations to help alleviate pressure on general practice, a think tank has said in a report published this week.

Policy Exchange launched a manifesto on Monday that is aimed at the next Prime Minister, who will be announced on 5 September.

The document, What do we want from the next Prime Minister? A series of policy ideas for new leadership: Health and Social Care, contains 16 policy ideas - eight focused on the current pressures affecting access to services and eight that look to put the NHS on a sustainable longer-term footing.

One of its suggestions is to expand the role of community pharmacists in delivering appropriate services to patients, to free-up GPs to focus on wider clinical care.

It said that an expansion of community pharmacy could help address the NHS crisis but warned it is no ‘silver bullet’.

The report said pharmacists could deliver ‘a greater proportion of ’out of hours’ or weekend immunisations, where GP practices are unable to do so’.

It said this would be best achieved through a locally negotiated contract, which brings together qualified providers - general practice, pharmacy and local authorities - to collaborate rather compete against each other.

The report said that the deployment of the Covid-19 vaccine demonstrated that pharmacies were a viable setting for activities such as immunisations. It recommended an exploration of opportunities to boost cooperative working between pharmacy and other providers, including improving data.

Other suggestions for stabilising primary care in the short term include the launch of a re-entry scheme for retired nurses and GPs. The aim would be to encourage retired GPs and nurses back into the workforce.

The manifesto also said that the new Prime Minister would need to take action ‘to avert a collapse of emergency care over winter’ and urgently free hospital bed capacity ahead of this winter.

That could be helped by investing more heavily in community care, it said.

‘The ‘least bad’ option will be to shift as much in-patient care to remote settings as is reasonable without compromising patient safety,’ said the report.

The report recommends a massive scaling up of virtual wards over this coming autumn and winter, to free up hospital beds and reduce bottlenecks in emergency departments.

This comes as the National Pharmacy Association  called on Rishi Sunak to adopt a ‘Pharmacy First’ approach as he visited to the chemist formerly run by his mother this week.