GPs must loosen their grip on minor illnesses to let pharmacists show patients just how valuable they are, says The Pharmacist's editor Beth Kennedy

It was a welcome change to see pharmacy in the headlines for a positive reason this week. Widely reported in the media, NHS England’s Stay Well Pharmacy campaign, which launched on Monday (12 January), aims to free up some of the 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million trips made to A&E for self-treatable conditions such as tummy troubles. So far, so sensible.

But there was one fly in the ointment in the form of a rather patronising statement in response to the news from Helen Stokes-Lampard of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).

She acknowledged that pharmacists are highly trained healthcare professionals that parents can go to for reassurance when their children are ill. But pharmacists, she was at pains to point out, ‘are not GPs and in an emergency or situation where genuinely unsure, patients should always seek expert medical assistance’.

I wouldn’t blame you pharmacists for being royally hacked off by such condescending nonsense. It was essentially the equivalent of the RCGP clutching its pearls and whimpering, ‘will somebody please think of the children?’

It was the line very kindly reminding us all that pharmacists are ‘of course, not GPs’ that really got on my wick. Well, no. They’re not. They’re pharmacists – highly qualified healthcare professionals more than capable of advising on minor illnesses like coughs and sniffles.

Quite how the RCGP managed to turn a well-meaning message deterring patients from making unnecessary appointments with their local – and, as Professor Stokes-Lampard mentioned in her statement, almost certainly overworked – GP is beyond me. It is the very essence of GPs wanting to have their cake and eat it too; complaining about rising workloads while simultaneously, it would seem, trying to keep hold of many unnecessary appointments.

For me, this is just one example of how pharmacists are continuously pushed to the bottom of the healthcare professional pile and it has got to stop. With so much pressure on our already creaking NHS, it’s high time that schemes such as Stay Well Pharmacy are given a chance to succeed by other healthcare professionals.

To do this, it’s essential for pharmacists to keep on showing patients just how indispensible you are to their lives. Although, naturally, this becomes a whole lot more difficult when – due to factors such as category M clawbacks and the cuts – you’re just trying to keep your heads above water.

So with this in mind, I’d heartily recommend that you register for The Pharmacist’s sister event Pharmacy Forward, which will be held in Birmingham on 10 June.

Covering a wide range of topics from what you need to know about new data protection laws to how you can increase your customers’ OTC spend, it promises to be a great day, giving you all the tools you need to thrive, not just survive, through this challenging time for the sector.

I hope to see you there.

Register to attend the Pharmacy Forward event for FREE here.

Read The Pharmacist’s GP blogger Dr Livingstone’s take on the campaign here.