Women in northeast Scotland will now be able to get antibiotic prescriptions for urinary tract infections from a pharmacist without having to see a GP.
NHS Grampian has said the new service could free up nearly 25,000 GP appointments each year.
The specially trained pharmacists will be able prescribe an antibiotic to women aged 16 to 65 with an uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTI) following a suitability assessment by the pharmacist.
NHS Grampian is the first health board in the country to roll out the service and more than 90 community pharmacies in the area have signed up to offer the treatment.
It will provide women with quicker, easier access to more effective treatments from their community pharmacy.
Dr Alasdair Jamieson, GP lead for Aberdeen City with NHS Grampian, said: “While the condition affects both men and women, it is far more common in women.
“Around half of all women will have a UTI at least once in their lives, usually more frequently as they age. Consequently, many people are acutely aware when they have a UTI and when it requires treatment.
“Previously, over-the-counter treatments from community pharmacies for UTI would only relieve the symptoms and didn’t address the root bacterial infection.
“That wasn’t ideal for patients and we’ve made these changes to ensure that people are able to get the right treatment at the right time.
“Antibiotic treatment for UTI isn’t always necessary, as uncomplicated cases can resolve in a few days, however, if symptoms are moderate to severe, an antibiotic is recommended.”
Jamieson said UTI is one of the most common conditions seen in female patients across general practice accounting for between 1% and 3% of all GP consultations each year, and for a significant proportion of women it would be appropriate to be seen and treated by their community pharmacist.
“That has real potential to reduce GP workload, freeing up appointments and allowing greater focus on more complex, urgent medical conditions. Clearly that will have significant direct and indirect benefits for patients right across general practice,” he said.
Dr Caroline Hind, deputy director of pharmacy and medicines management for NHS Grampian, said: “We’ve worked closely with community pharmacists across Grampian to prepare for this change.
“That’s included specialist training and guidelines that allow pharmacists to operate within defined protocols to provide an antibiotic for uncomplicated cases.
“Community Pharmacies play a critical role in helping to improve timely access to assessment and treatment and we are delighted with the support we’ve received in introducing this service which should really improve access to effective treatment for patients.”
Hind added that UTIs in men are rarely “uncomplicated” which means they will still require a GP appointment or referral.