A GP's satirical blog post commenting that pharmacists offer advice ranging from ‘well-meaning pseudoscience to downright quackery’ was ‘rude and unfounded’, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has said, calling for general practice to work together with pharmacies.

The blog, written by ‘Essex GP Dr Tony Copperfield’ (a pseudomyn), commented on our sister title Pulse about pharmacists’ backlash against NHS England’s new campaign, which aims to redirect patients from GP practices to pharmacies for minor ailments.

His experience, said the writer, is that patients were ‘distinctly unimpressed and unconvinced by pharmacy Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) advice and so ended up back with me anyway, albeit via the 111, pharmacy, GP reception carousel.’

The article continued: ‘I’m guessing the reason they used to be happy to dispense gratis, minor ailment advice, which ranged from well-meaning pseudoscience to downright quackery, was that it gave them an opportunity to flog stuff: cough mixtures, vitamins and copper bracelets all compensated for the time spent spouting quasi-medicine.

‘Perhaps this new resistance to more footfall indicates a welcome determination to resolve the age-old tension between being a credible health adviser and being a shopkeeper. On the other hand, maybe they’ve twigged that patients are more likely to spend their money on gas bills rather than health junk.’

PSNC chief executive, Janet Morrison, has labelled Dr Copperfield’s comments ‘rude and unfounded’, pointing to NHS England analysis of the CPCS which shows that less than 12% of patients need referral back to their GP or to a hospital. She added that PSNC’s advice audits have shown that less than half of informal patient consultations in pharmacies include the sale of an over-the-counter medicine.

‘If Dr Copperfield thinks that these transactions make pharmacies any money, we’d invite him to come and examine some pharmacy accounts and to see for himself just how much pharmacies continue to put patients over profit,’ she said.

‘The 30% real terms cuts to our funding are decimating our sector. Pharmacies are on their knees, with 88% telling us they are losing money.’

Ms Morrison says she recognises that ‘general practice is also in a difficult place’, with ‘both sectors suffering as a direct consequence of Government and NHS policies and funding decisions’.

She said: ‘Far better that we work together to address this than to spend our time taking cheap – and factually inaccurate – shots at one another.’

Speaking exclusively to The Pharmacist, Dr Copperfield suggested that the point of the blog was to highlight the government was trying to ‘dump’ more work on pharmacists with no pay and he was ‘familiar with that type of pain.’

The reply continued: ‘As for patients on the CPCS ending up back with me – as I say, that’s been my experience. I’m not claiming I did an RCT here. But don’t take offence, it’s also my experience that the same thing happens with patients seeing OOH doctors, locums, 111, community services et al. My point being that the fragmentation of services ends up costing more in money and dysfunction than it saves.’

On Monday, (6 March), NHS England imposed a contract on GPs to start next month, which includes more stipulations around access, but no extra funding.

The contract letter was not agreed with the BMA GP Committee, it said.

‘The breakdown in GP contract negotiations for the second year running is another blow for primary care,’ Ms Morrison said.

‘The verdict of the GP negotiators is that the demands being made of doctors by the Government and the NHS are simply unreasonable.

‘Community pharmacy is being treated with the same disregard: too much is being asked of us, with far too little funding available.

‘The Government and NHS know from the analysis and warnings we are continuing to give them that they are on very dangerous ground with more and more pharmacies on the brink of financial collapse.

‘We are working hard to influence the Primary Care Recovery Plan, which must include a lifeline for pharmacies. If it doesn’t, then our general practice colleagues and their patients can expect further crises ahead as pharmacy businesses continue to fail.’