Treatments for seven conditions such as sore throats and earaches are now available directly from pharmacists, without the need to visit a doctor.
The Pharmacy First scheme will allow most chemists in England to issue prescriptions to patients without appointments or referrals.
It will save GP surgeries an estimated 10 million appointments a year (3.3%).
Pharmacy groups welcome the move but there is concern about funding and recent chemist closures.
The conditions are:
- sore throat
- infected insect bites
- uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women
Patients needing more specialist or follow-up care will be referred onward. More than 90% of community chemists had registered to deliver the new service, NHS England said. They have been paid £2,000 each and will receive £15 per consultation plus £1,000 a month if they see a set minimum number of patients. Similar services are already offered in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. NHS England’s chief executive Amanda Pritchard called it “great news for patients”.
“GPs are already treating millions more people every month than before the pandemic – but with an ageing population and growing demand, we know the NHS needs to give people more choice and make accessing care as easy as possible,” she said. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society called it a “leap forward” in patient care.
Ade Williams, who trialled the scheme at Bedminster Pharmacy, in Bristol, told BBC News: “One of the frustrations you have as a pharmacist is that you have patients coming in and then you want to help them – but then you are then not able to. It’s a really big deal for us. “You feel a greater sense of satisfaction and it’s lovely when the patient comes back and says, ‘I am better now – that worked.'” Ali McKerrow, whose young son was prescribed an impetigo cream at the pharmacy, says the scheme will help working parents. “It can be really challenging getting a GP appointment,” she said. “I am about to do the school run and just popped in here on the way – that’s infinitely easier than staying on the phone on hold.”
Nearly half the pharmacies in England have also recently started prescribing the oral contraceptive pill. They will also increase the number of blood-pressure checks. But there are concerns about pharmacy closures. Last year, BBC News analysis showed the number of chemists in England had fallen to its lowest level since 2015. And the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies has warned community pharmacies in England are “severely underfunded”. Chief executive Dr Leyla Hannbeck welcomed the scheme but said that without greater funding, “more pharmacies will shut their doors for good and more workload will be transferred to remaining pharmacies”. NHS England said £645m was being invested over two years in expanding services offered by community pharmacies.