The time is right for a nationwide pharmacy common ailments service

by AshoAsh_Soni_0411k Soni OBE, FRPharmS, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society

If you feel unwell with a common ailment, such as a sore throat, cold, cough or upset stomach, but want urgent treatment, where would you go? Your pharmacy, your GP surgery or your local A&E department?

We’ve just launched research which shows that millions more people could benefit from being treated at for common ailments by their local pharmacy. Treatment results are equally good regardless of whether you are treated at a pharmacy, A&E or GP practice, and you’d get a fast, same- day service too.

Sounds good? If you read the research led by Mags Watson from the University of Aberdeen, it shows that treating common ailments at community pharmacies could save the NHS £1.1billion a year. This is because a consultation in a pharmacy only costs the NHS about £29. The same consultation at a GP surgery is nearly three times higher at £82 and five times higher at £147 at A&E.

We want to see all pharmacies in England able to provide a common ailments service. If you qualify for free prescriptions, you’d still receive any medicines you need free of charge, too.

At the moment, only 1 in 3 pharmacies in England are able to run the service because the decision to provide it is taken by your local NHS. I think this decision should be taken nationally, so you can get the same treatment wherever you live.  Scotland and Northern Ireland already have successful common ailment services in operation.

Giving you the right service at your pharmacy also means GPs and A&E staff would be able to focus on people with more complex health problems needing their care.

We need to re-think how services are delivered. The Royal College of GPs is backing our call, stating explicitly that “Pharmacists are ideally placed to give advice and it is they – rather than GPs – who should be the first port of call for common ailments.”

The College of Emergency Medicine are also keen to see pharmacists treat more of their patients too, saying “Pressure in A&E is a real concern for the NHS and we need the public to help by understanding where they can get the best care for their particular problem. Recognising that patients can use the skills and experience of pharmacists to treat common minor ailments would be an important step in this direction.”

Last year, the NHS in England published a report on urgent care services ordered by Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS National Medical Director. He said “Community pharmacies are an under-used resource….. We can capitalise on the untapped potential and convenience that greater utilisation of the skills and expertise of the pharmacy workforce can offer.”

The RPS thinks pharmacists have a huge role to play in urgent and emergency care, whether that’s providing minor ailments services, working directly in A&E departments or working alongside GPs to provide the right services for patients. The challenge now for everyone is to make it work for patients across the country.