Giving pharmacists a greater role in patient care could ease the huge pressure on GP services, if supported to do so, says a new report on community pharmacy policy compiled by researchers at the University of Bath.

With many patients struggling to get a routine GP appointment due to an ever-increasing demand on services, the research team says that giving support to community pharmacists to help manage long-term and urgent conditions could significantly improve access to treatments and ease the pressure on NHS GP services.

A policy brief, developed by researchers from the University of Bath and University of Strathclyde with funding from Sigma Pharmaceuticals, will be launched today (Wednesday 12 July 2023) at an event in the House of Commons, attended by Members of Parliament, senior policymakers and the pharmacy industry.

To conduct the research, the authors analysed governmental and pharmacy policies and spoke to patients and other stakeholders to explore their opinions of the future of community pharmacy.

As a result, they recommended that in the future, medicines could be dispensed automatically at large, centralised facilities and then delivered to the patient’s community pharmacy for collection.

This ‘hub and spoke’ model differs from existing practice where pharmacists typically prepare prescriptions sent by GPs. They say it would free up the time of community pharmacy staff to provide more patient-facing services, in turn relieving pressure on GP surgeries.

Dr Matthew Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of Bath, said: “Community pharmacies already supply medicines and provide medical consultations to the public without the need for an appointment.

“They are generally more accessible than GPs, as around 89% of people live within 20 minutes’ walk of a community pharmacy, and many have extended opening hours, including at times when GP surgeries are normally closed.

“It makes sense to empower pharmacists to increase their patient-facing work to safely and effectively manage long-term conditions such as diabetes or asthma, minor ailments such as sore throats and earache, and promote public health with vaccinations and smoking cessation services.

“However, putting this in place requires new training, full access to health records and national commissioning with sufficient funding based on the quality of services. We believe making more effective use of community pharmacists could go a long way to help address the current NHS challenges in GP services.”

Dr Piotr Ozieranski, Reader in the Department of Social Policy Sciences at the University of Bath, said: “Our research highlights a key role community pharmacists could play in the face of increased pressure on GP services.

“This requires a rethink and overhaul of how prescriptions are currently managed, but we see an opportunity here which the Government should seize."

Professor Margaret Watson, Professor of Health Services Research and Pharmacy Practice at the University of Strathclyde said: "Community pharmacy personnel achieved so much throughout the Covid pandemic; imagine what could be achieved with appropriate funding and workforce enablement.

“Pharmacists are society's experts on medicines, which are the most commonly used healthcare treatment.

“Government investment in community pharmacy services isn't just good for health it's essential for building a better future for the people of Britain."

Two weeks ago, the Government announced the NHS Workforce Plan which included proposals to increase the number of pharmacists by 29% in the next five years and grow the number of pharmacy technicians to address the changing needs of patients over the next 15 years.

This complements the announcement of its Delivery Plan for Recovering Access to Primary Care, aiming to provide 'pharmacy first' prescription-only medicines for 7 common conditions.

The findings of this project, funded by Sigma Pharmaceuticals, have also been supplied as evidence to the current Health & Social Care Committee Pharmacy Inquiry.

Access the underlying research 'Professional and governmental policy on community pharmacy: A 10-year policy review and comparative analysis (2008–2017)' published in the Exploratory Research in Clinical and Social Pharmacy