Including pharmacists in practice team meetings can help integrate the role more fully into general practice, promoting more efficient use of healthcare staff, a study has suggested.

The qualitative study, published in the BJGP, interviewed 11 GPs, 11 practice-based pharmacists (PBP) and 10 community pharmacist in five locations in Northern Ireland to assess pharmacists’ integration into general practice and the impact on primary healthcare delivery.

GPs and pharmacists both identified that inclusion of pharmacists in practice meetings and social activities, as well as making the role full-time, can enhance communication and working relationships, therefore leading to stronger integration into the team.

One GP said: ‘It [full integration of PBPs] is very much focused on regular meetings and to make that protected time for the pharmacist to meet with all members of the team.’

A PBP added: ‘As long as pharmacists are involved in practice meetings and decisions and have those relationships, I think there’s not much more that could be done.’

Reducing workload

Both GP and PBP respondents agreed that pharmacists reduced GP workload by taking on work previously performed by GPs. This resulted in doctors having more time with patients and improved patient safety and care, as well as medicines optimisation.

However, PBPs said that collaborative working and uptake of their services could be further improved by taking steps to increase both practice team and patient awareness of their role.

The authors of the study noted: ‘Nearly all participants in our study emphasised the need to properly inform patients and primary care team members about PBPs, including roles and responsibilities, to raise patients’ awareness and therefore encourage the uptake of PBPs’ services, ultimately leading to better integration of the PBP.’

GPs suggested that having more full-time PBPs in the practice would also be valuable.

One said: ‘Our PBPs are busy. I suppose if we could have more full-time pharmacists that would be fantastic. There’s a huge amount of work that could be done.’

A PBP added that their role being permanent within the practice also made a big difference to how effectively they became a part of the primary care team.

‘It [the PBP role] needs to be a permanent role so that GPs get what they want from PBPs and PBPs can develop relationships with GPs and patients within the practice as well,’ they said.

Having the opportunity to forge those relationships was particularly important for pharmacists covering multiple practices. As one PBP respondent said: ‘It is kind of hard to go to one surgery one day and then go to another surgery the next day. We need to be able to build up relationships with other workers in the primary care team, but also with patients.’

The authors of the study acknowledged the recent expansion of the pharmacist role and said that increasing patient awareness alongside this may ‘exacerbate workload issues’.

They suggested placing more PBPs and pharmacy technicians in general practice would help address these demands.

NHS England recently announced an ad campaign to encourage patients to visit the pharmacy instead of their GP for minor illnesses.

This article first appeared on our sister publication, Management in Practice.