PATIENTS using their local pharmacies to deal with minor illnesses are saving Scotland’s GPs an estimated 240,000 working hours per year – equivalent to the work of around 115 full-time doctors, according to Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS).
In 2014/15, more than 913,000 patients were registered with their local community pharmacies, which led to more than 1.4 million consultations and over 2 million items being prescribed on the Minor Ailments Service (MAS). Calculating that each consultation saved GPs 10 minutes of time, this meant MAS saved the equivalent of 115 full-time GPs in one year.
The organisation believes there is scope for the MAS to offer even more relief for GPs, as currently less than 40% of those eligible to use the scheme were registered.
A recent BMA survey showed that more than a third of Scotland’s GPs were planning to retire in the next five years; while the Royal College of GPs has predicted that by 2020 Scotland will be short of 830 full-time GPs. The Scottish Government’s recent drive to recruit an extra 100 trainee GPs only managed to fill 37 places, despite offering attractive bursaries.
Community Pharmacy Scotland’s Chief Executive, Professor Harry McQuillan, said: “Every NHS area is struggling in terms of providing primary care for patients, and much of that is simply down to workload. Research has indicated that up to 40% of GP consultations are taken up by non-urgent, or minor conditions – most of which could be dealt with in a community pharmacy.
“Add this to the fact that we know 93% of GPs believe that the 10 minute consultations they have allow inadequate time with ill patients and it makes complete sense to have patients with minor illnesses interact with their pharmacy to access effective and timely care that has the added benefit of freeing up the scarcest of NHS resources – a doctor’s time.”
CPS is hoping the Inverclyde Pharmacy First pilot, which is testing universal access to MAS in 19 pharmacies will demonstrate the way forward. As part of the pilot, MAS has also been extended to include treatment for uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women aged 16-60, impetigo and shingles.
Professor McQuillan said: “[MAS] was introduced in all of Scotland’s community pharmacies in 2006, however there are only 60% of the population eligible to use it, and only 18% are currently registered.”
The problem was that eligibility criteria for accessing MAS was put in place over a decade ago, and this was holding it back from “realising its full potential”, and the fact that only NHS-approved leaflets and posters were allowed to be used to promote the service, which meant the profession couldn’t “shout about how good the service is to the limited number of people who could access it.”
However, Professor McQuillan hopes that the Inverclyde Pharmacy First pilot will change attitudes to the potential of the Minor Ailments Service: “This piece of work is a fantastic example of collaborative working – not only have the pharmacy staff been briefed and trained to deliver this extension of the minor ailments service, but this happened alongside staff from GP practices and other healthcare professions being brought up to speed on developments.
“This has resulted in everyone involved being clear on what pharmacies can and can’t provide consultations for, making sure patients are directed to the right person with the right skills at the right time, every time. The benefits to patients don’t end there – if their condition is covered they won’t need an appointment for a pharmacy consultation, and the service is available 7 days a week, right into the evening from selected outlets. This is expected to take a lot of strain off daytime primary care services and out-of-hours A+E departments, which will hopefully be reflected in the evaluation of the pilot.”