The ‘expertise and safety’ that pharmacists working in general practice can bring to patients has been spotlighted within a parliamentary inquiry.

President of the Primary Care Pharmacy Association Dr Graham Stretch was giving evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee’s new inquiry into pharmacy when he highlighted the ‘huge differences’ practice pharmacists have made.

He told MPs that the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme, launched to fund pharmacists and other roles to work in general practices in 2019, had funded ‘an enormous amount of capacity’.

‘And it’s not just about counting tick boxes – what it has done is allowed patients to see an appropriate practitioner,’ added Dr Stretch.

His comments came as part of the committee’s investigation into the challenges faced within pharmacy across community, general practice and hospital settings.

And they followed an inquiry session with community pharmacy leaders, who once again sounded the alarm over the negative impact the ARRS scheme has had on the sector, and who argued the scheme should be opened up to community pharmacies.

While Dr Stretch later noted that funding for the ARRS scheme had been negotiated for within general practice, he said he would be ‘entirely content with the ARRS monies being used to deliver those services wherever is best to place them’.

During his evidence session, in which he sat alongside Royal Pharmaceutical Society director for England James Davies, Dr Stretch was asked about the ‘positives’ of pharmacists working within primary care settings.

In response, he said it was about the ‘expertise and safety that we can deliver’ alongside ‘quality’.

According to Dr Stretch, there were around 7,000 pharmacists working in general practices in England, ‘delivering 2.8 million structured medication reviews’.

He cited examples of practice pharmacist helping to reduce opioid overuse – notably by 80% in Barrow in Cumbria and by 65% on the Norfolk coast.

‘[Pharmacists] are making huge differences to individual patients by concentrating on recognising those medicines most likely to cause harms,’ he told MPs.

Within his own service in West London, he said pharmacists had help reduce unplanned hospital admissions, the number of patients having to access end-of-life care in hospitals and overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics.

‘We have absolutely moved general practice from being about doctors, to being about the team,’ said Dr Stretch.

The doctor may be seen as the ‘captain’ or the ‘conductor’, but it was about directing ‘patients towards the practitioner, towards the professional, that’s most able to have the expertise to deal with one particular issue is of concern to them’.