£15m pharmacists plan launched to ease GP workload

Up to 300 clinical pharmacists are expected to be recruited and employed in GP surgeries to provide direct patient care and to ease the workload of doctors, as part of a new £15m scheme launched by NHS England. 

The three-year pilot project for England will see pharmacists support around a million patients with self-limiting illnesses or long-term conditions. 

The scheme, which will launch later this year, will focus on areas of greatest need where GPs are under greatest pressure, and aims to build on the success of GP practices already employing pharmacists in patient-facing roles. 

It is part of the GP workforce 10-point plan agreed between the BMA GPs committee, Royal College of GPs, NHS England and Health Education England. 

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “This has the potential to be a win-win-win for patients, their GPs and for pharmacists. 

“Tapping into the skills of clinical pharmacists should help expand care and relieve some of the pressure that GPs are clearly under. This isn’t a silver bullet but it is a practical and constructive contribution to the wider challenge.” 

Examples of work that a clinical pharmacist may do in a GP practice could include providing clinical advice and expertise on treatments, developing bespoke medicine plans for individual patients, establishing ongoing professional relationships with individual patients, and assisting with communication across a patient’s care pathway, including with GPs, hospitals and social care. 

Royal Pharmaceutical Society English Board chair Sandra Gidley said: “This substantial investment by NHS England shows the confidence that the NHS has in the pharmacy profession to deliver direct patient care. We are now seeing the results of our joint work with RCGP, which will provide an opportunity for pharmacists, from a range of backgrounds, to use their skills as part of the general practice team, improving patient care. 

“This is delivery on a large scale of one of the RPS English Pharmacy Board’s key campaign ambitions, to have pharmacists working in GP practices in England, improving patient care.” 

Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, said that doctors are struggling to cope with unprecedented workloads and patients in some parts of the country are having to wait weeks for a GP appointment yet we have a ‘hidden army’ of highly trained pharmacists who could provide a solution. 

“They will not be substitutes for GPs, but will work closely with us as part of the practice team to resolve day to day medicine issues, particularly for patients with long term conditions who are taking a number of different medications,” she said. “This has the potential to have a major impact on patient care and safety, as well as reducing waiting times for GP appointments.” 

To help practices start the project, NHS England will part fund the clinical pharmacists for 36 months, initially at 60 % for the first 12 months. 

GP practices can independently apply for the funding or submit a joint application as a federation, with each pilot based on one senior clinical pharmacist and a number of clinical pharmacists working together. 

BMA GPC education, training and workforce subcommittee chair Dr Krishna Kasaraneni added: “It is important that we look at how pharmacists can work more efficiently within general practice and relieve some of the unprecedented pressure on GP services.   We will need to look closely at how these pilots operate and ensure that the clinical benefits of the scheme are clear.” 

Applications will be assessed by the local education and training board and NHS England regional team. 

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