New plans for community pharmacy to free up GP access by taking on the treatment of seven common conditions should be seen as an appropriate partnership between community pharmacists and GPs, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) has said.
A new national Pharmacy First service, backed by a £645m investment in community pharmacy, would allow pharmacists to supply prescription-only medicines including antibiotics and antivirals where clinically appropriate, to treat seven common health conditions: sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women.
The medicines will be supplied under a Patient Group Direction (PGD) and remove the need for patients to visit a GP, which according to Dr Leyla Hannbeck, should be seen by GPs as a solution rather than a threat.
In an interview with The Pharmacist, Dr Hannbeck also hit back at insinuations that pharmacists would profit from over-prescribing medicines or contribute to antibiotic resistance.
‘We’re keen to work with the GPs,’ she said. ‘I’m glad that the vast majority of them are on board, but for those who are not, [they] should not be seeing us as a threat to them, rather a solution.’
Dr Hannbeck emphasised pharmacists’ professional capabilities as medicines experts.
‘We’ve done a five-year degree on medicines expertise. So, we know better than anyone else about how medicines function in the body, including antibiotics,’ she said.
‘And we understand very well what antibiotic resistance means. And we’re very capable of addressing that. It doesn’t mean that just because pharmacists are being asked to do these services that we’re going to be dishing out antibiotics.’
She said that the conditions that pharmacists would be able to treat under the Pharmacy First proposals were ‘not new to us’.
‘We've been consulting on sore throats and earaches and all of these things for many years,’ she noted.
‘In fact, if anything, as a community pharmacy, you see more of these things coming through your door than sometimes doctors do.
‘This time around, it gives us an opportunity to actually do something about it, right there and then, rather than in some cases having to refer the person to the GP.’
And she emphasised that pharmacists would only supply prescription only medications such as antibiotics if they were required.
‘In many cases, there may not be a prescription only medicine required. But if it is required, and we can under pharmacy guidelines give it to them, then that’s great for everyone,’ said Dr Hannbeck.
‘We are professionals. And we know what we're doing. And we know our own capabilities, and when to refer people to the doctor when the person needs to go see a doctor.’
Dr Hannbeck also hit back at accusations that pharmacies would over-prescribe medicines in order to profit from them, highlighting that 90% of the income stream of the average independent community pharmacy comes from NHS services, such as dispensing medicines, NHS vaccinations and blood pressure monitoring.
‘We are not ashamed of saying that we are a business. We are a business. GP practices are also businesses,’ she said.
Dr Hannbeck repeated her concerns that the funding promised in the primary care plan would not be enough to stop pharmacies from closing, calling for an urgent uplift in community pharmacy’s core funding.
‘The biggest elephant in the room is the core funding [which is] short of £1.1bn, and if that is not addressed, it will not stop community pharmacies going out of business,’ she said.
‘I’m calling for this to be addressed, because if we want to deliver these services – which are very much welcome – we need to ensure that there are enough pharmacies out there who can do this.’
She added: ‘At the moment, most of them don't have the cash flow in their pocket to be able to put in to implement this.’
‘We’re pleased to see that this is a step in the right direction by the Prime Minister and from the government, because they recognise that community pharmacies are the solution.
‘However, these plans need to be thought through.’