Community pharmacies and general practice are unaffected by the ongoing industrial action by nurses, the NHS has emphasised to the public, encouraging patients to access these services as needed.

In a dispute over pay, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members in England are striking this week - today (18 January) and tomorrow (19 January) - and additional strike action in England and Wales has been announced for Monday 6 and Tuesday 7 February.

'General practice, community pharmacies and dentistry are not impacted by strike action and the public should continue to access these services as needed on strike days,' an NHS spokesperson said.

A report in The Telegraph last month suggested pharmacists might be asked to take on additional responsibilities during strike action, such as diagnosing patients with minor conditions and prescribing antibiotics. However, the chair of the National Pharmacy Association warned that community pharmacy is not in a position to relieve pressure on the NHS by taking on additional patient care during NHS strikes.

Reassuring the public as industrial action by nurses continues, NHS deputy chief nursing officer Charlotte McArdle said: 'The NHS has tried and tested methods in place to manage any disruption and has been working hard to minimise the impact for patients.

'It is important that people continue coming forward for treatment, whether it is 111 online for non-life-threatening care, making use of your local pharmacy or general practice, or dialling 999 in a life-threatening emergency.’

Last month, the NHS launched the latest phase of a TV campaign encouraging the public to use NHS 111 online. After entering answers about health needs online, the service makes an assessment and directs you to the best place for your care – this can include a consultation with a pharmacist, a call back from a nurse, or visiting a same-day urgent treatment centre or A&E.

In December, NHS 111 saw a 60% increase in call numbers, in part driven by Strep A concerns, with 700,000 calls in just one week.

Last month, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association asked NHS pharmacists if they would support strike action.