Prescribing – Why every GP practice needs a pharmacist

By Neal Patel, Head of Corporate Communications

The General medical Council’s new report on prescribing published today, “Investigating the prevalence and causes of prescribing errors in general practice”, shows that while the vast majority of prescribing by GP’s  is safe and effective, around 1 in 20 prescriptions contain an error. The report makes recommendations of ways in which safety and quality of prescribing could be further improved.

The GMC have said that patients and doctors could also benefit from greater involvement ofrom pharmacists in supporting prescribing and monitoring. We would go further and have   a pharmacist working in the practice with GPs, dedicated to patient safety.

GP’s, like pharmacists, are busy people, the demands of modern healthcare provision mean that it’s almost impossible for any one person be on top of all current thinking around illness, treatment and prevention.

Collaboration is key, but often this can be difficult due to poor communication systems and IT.

Breaking down the barriers between GPs and pharmacists is only the first step. The next is choosing an area of focus, what is the role of the pharmacist when working alongside a GP?

Community pharmacists are focused on helping patients receive optimal therapy once medicines have been prescribed. Every prescription for every patient is clinically checked to make sure the dose ans strength is appropriate for the patient.  In England Medicine Use Reviews and the New Medicine Service both give patients and pharmacists a chance to sit down in a private consultation area and discuss how to get the most out of the medicines.

What could a pharmacist in a GP practice do? The focus must be patient safety and the quality of prescribing, the evidence tells us that prescribing errors could be reduced by up to 50 per cent if GPs introduced an in-house pharmacist-led support scheme.

But what about cost? Is it affordable for every practice to have a pharmacist?

Many practices already do get dedicated pharmacy support, some pharmacists are employed by practices and some pharmacy support is provided by Primary Care Trusts.

However, the focus for this support has in past been more about driving down costs – our argument is that much more emphasis should be centred on improving quality and patient outcomes.

Can we afford not to use the resources of the NHS as effectively as possible? The NHS spends billions on medicines each year, every time a patient is prescribed a drug, all us, GP’s and pharmacists should be asking – how effective is this treatment for the patient in front of me?

With a joined up approach, GP’s and pharmacists working together on prescribing would help prevent unnecessary harm to patients and reduce the costs associated with dealing with prescribing errors and ineffective treatment.