Pharmacists ‘could save NHS £1.1bn’

20 Oct 14
Pharmacists could save the NHS more than £1bn per year by treating common ailments, according to research from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

By Marino Donati | 20 October 2014

Pharmacists could save the NHS more than £1bn per year by treating common ailments, according to research from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

Treating patients for coughs, sores throats and other common ailments at accident and emergency departments or GP surgeries, rather than community pharmacies, costs the NHS and extra £1.1 billion a year.

But treating them in community pharmacies costs £29.30 per patient, compared to £82.34 at a GP and £147.09 at an A&E department, according to the research. The results of treatment are ‘equally good’ the society says.

The study estimates that 3% of all A&E consultations and 5.5% of GP consultations for common ailments could be managed in community pharmacies.

This equates to over 650,000 visits to A&E and over 18 million GP consultations every year that could be diverted.

The society is calling for a national common ailments service to be provided through community pharmacies to save cash and also free capacity at A&E and GP surgeries.

Many pharmacies already run common ailment schemes. People who qualify for free prescriptions still receive any necessary medication free of charge under the scheme.

The two-year research study was led by the University of Aberdeen and examined data from two A&E departments, six general practices and selected pharmacies in East Anglia and Northeast Scotland.

The most common simple problem patients sought help for were aches and pains in joints and muscles.  Other symptoms included sore throats, coughs, colds or sinus problems, stomach problems such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, and eye problems. 

RPS President Ash Soni said the NHS could not afford to wait any longer to create capacity in the system. 

‘We need to be more strategic and change the services on offer to the public to make best use of the NHS workforce,’ he said.

‘The NHS must act urgently to provide a nationwide common ailment service through all community pharmacies in England.  At present, the service is commissioned locally and only one in three pharmacies are able to provide it. 

‘People must be able to get the same service from a pharmacy wherever they live, rather than the current “hit and miss” approach which drives patients straight back to overburdened A&E and GP services.’

Professor Nigel Mathers, honorary secretary of the Royal College of General Practitioners, welcomed the research and said that pharmacists should be the first port of call for common ailments, with GPs contacted if symptoms continue or are more serious.

He added that the ‘workforce crisis’ in general practice meant that there were not enough GPs to cope with the volume of patients.

‘Over 90% of patient contacts in the NHS are dealt with in general practice – for just over 8% of the NHS budget,’ he said.

‘GPs are seeing 340 million patients a year – 40 million more than even five years ago – and some family doctors are routinely seeing between 40 and 60 patients a day to try and keep up with the demand. Our own research shows that in the next year, there will be nearly 60 million occasions when patients cannot get an appointment with their GP or practice nurse.’

Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer for NHS England, said that the community pharmacy was a crucial part of NHS England’s vision to deliver urgent care closer to people’s homes.



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