Pharmacists have called for greater awareness of the profession after an MP appeared to mistakenly refer to the profession as ‘pharmacologists’ on BBC Question Time last night.

Member of Parliament for Horsham and Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin highlighted the roles of ‘pharmacologists’ working in general practice in response to a comment made by a GP about the availability of appointments.

While recognising ‘a huge increase in demand’ for general practice care, he said: ‘I hope that in your practice, you’re getting some of the other medical practitioners alongside you, pharmacologists and the like, who will be able to provide supporting services to the GP, that’s one of the new services we’ve introduced that seems to be working very well – GPs in my part of the world certainly say it is.’

But some pharmacists have taken to social media and spoken to The Pharmacist about their disappointment with Mr Quin’s misuse of terminology.

And others emphasised that pharmacists should not solely be seen in terms of reducing pressure on GPs.

‘It's positive that there's recognition for the role of pharmacists, but obviously, concerning that we’ve still got a long way to go, that people don't actually know the name “pharmacist”,’ media pharmacist Thorrun Govind told The Pharmacist.

She said that most pharmacists ‘would be shocked’ by the public understanding of their role, and while there was more recognition than there used to be, ‘it's still not where it needs to be’.

‘That's why I'm going to carry on doing what I do and keep on championing pharmacy as part of the healthcare system,’ said Ms Govind.

And she highlighted the importance of other healthcare professionals advocating for the pharmacy profession.

‘Good signposting by other health care professionals can help remedy this,’ she said.

Meanwhile, Dr Joe Bush, head of pharmacy at Aston University, commented: ‘While it is disappointing to hear a cabinet minister mistakenly refer to “pharmacologists” rather than “pharmacists”, the considerable overlap between the two words means that this mistake is not uncommon.’

‘That being said, “pharmacist” is a protected title that may only be used by an individual registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council as a pharmacist, whereas a “pharmacologist” is a more generic term used for individuals who study the effects of drugs on cells, animals and humans.’

And he emphasised that pharmacists undertake ‘a rigorous, five-year period of clinically focussed education and training prior to joining the GPhC’s register’.

‘They use their expert knowledge of health, and medicines in particular to improve the wellbeing of the populations they serve,’ he added.

Dr Bush said that while pharmacists have been working in general practice surgeries for many years, a more recent increase in the number of pharmacists employed in general practice ‘has resulted in a commensurate growth in contact between the public and pharmacists as part of their routine care’.

‘The role of the pharmacist is well understood by those employed within healthcare but knowledge of the functions of pharmacists and of their specific expertise among the general public may be lacking,’ he told The Pharmacist.

‘As pharmacists become a more common feature in the routine care of patients, hopefully knowledge of their skills and expertise will grow but any effort to develop the public understanding of the role of the pharmacist is to be welcomed.’

In addition, Syed Hossain, pharmacy teaching fellow at Kingston University, stressed that pharmacists should be recognised for their own clinical expertise, rather than simply as ‘an easy way’ to reduce pressure on GPs.

And he highlighted the importance of patients getting ‘the best care’ in the most appropriate location.

‘If someone's coming in for a minor ailment condition or minor acuity illness, they don't necessarily have to go to a doctor or a GP for that. They can come to us,’ he stressed, highlighting the range of support available from both community and practice-based pharmacists.

In addition to structured medicines reviews, discussing a patient’s conditions and any issues they might have with medication, Mr Hossain highlighted that many pharmacists working within general practice were qualified as independent prescribers, giving them the clinical background to recommend alternative medications within their scope of practice.

While Mr Hossain suggested that the public were generally unaware of the support they could access from community and practice-based pharmacists, he said that this had begun to change in recent months with national NHS campaigns directing patients to their local community pharmacy as a first point of call.

He added that while in the past patients might have felt that doctors were ‘passing the buck’ when directing them to see a pharmacist, he suggested that that ‘common perception’ ‘has now changed’.

‘They've come to understand that the pharmacist can actually look after them and treat them well,’ said Mr Hossain.

‘And I think that's happened through their own experience [that] the pharmacist can actually help and support with conditions or certain things that they need.’

When asked by The Pharmacist for clarification on the minister’s ‘pharmacologists’ comment on Question Time: ‘From his engagement in his own constituency Mr Quin is aware of specialist pharmacist support in GP practices in his constituency which is hugely appreciated by GPs and increasingly by patients.

‘He is also very aware of the valuable role pharmacists play in their local communities.’

NHS England recently launched a campaign to help patients understand the role of practice pharmacists.