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Primary care

Pharmacy can help relieve pressure on GPs workload

GPs can lighten their workload by employing pharmacists while also gaining valuable clinical support.

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Some primary care pharmacists offer prescribing advice to GPs, with a focus on switching to more cost-effective products. But there is greater scope for pharmacists qualified as prescribers to run clinics and manage their own caseloads, especially for patients with long-term conditions or those patients taking several medicines — so-called polypharmacy.

A briefing document from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), seen by The Pharmaceutical Journal ahead of its dissemination to policymakers, makes the case for pharmacists offering prescribing advice as part of general practice services.

Pharmacists forming part of the clinical team within GP surgeries could do much to address the workload issues being faced by GPs. Royal College of General Practitioners chairman Maureen Baker has described a desperate shortage of GPs in many parts of the UK, with general practice “teetering on the brink of collapse”.

Conversely, the Centre for Workforce Intelligence, commissioned by the government to analyse future workforce requirements for healthcare, public health and social care in England, has predicted an oversupply of pharmacists, totalling as many as 19,000 by 2040. So, pharmacists could be seen as part of the solution to the GP crisis. 

Among the models set out by the RPS, pharmacists could be employed directly by GP surgeries, run clinics or be contracted from local community pharmacies. 

The notion of individual pharmacists having a direct role within GP practices may be perceived as a threat by community pharmacy businesses and their representative bodies. Yet, whatever models are adopted — and there is scope for different ones depending on local needs — there are advantages to having pharmacists work this way.

The practice pharmacist could act as a key contact for hospitals (e.g. medical admissions units) and community pharmacists on medicines-related issues — helping to ensure patients transfer safely between care settings, thereby preventing hospital readmissions. Furthermore, if practice pharmacists can prove their worth to the GPs who employ them, this may boost the recognition of pharmacists more broadly and make community pharmacies more attractive collaborators for general practice.

Pharmacists need to be clear in how they can support GPs, such as helping doctors meet Quality and Outcomes Framework targets, which represent one of the main sources of potential income for medical contractors in the UK. And GPs must think creatively about how to deal with the pressures they are facing.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20066474

Readers' comments (1)

  • GP surgeries will have no choice but to look at alternative ways to bolster their workforce. I've been working full time as a pharmacist prescriber employed by GPs since 2006. My role has developed somewhat since I started and as well as running clinics, I am now involved in helping the practice meet QOF targets, providing enhanced services, and carrying out audits and projects for the local CCG prescribing quality and productivity scheme. I frequently liaise with community and hospital pharmacists usually with regards to medication changes. I also help deal with any medication related queries from patients or colleagues. This model of care has proved highly successful in my practice and I hope that soon all GPs will realise the potential for a pharmacist role within their team. We are highly skilled professionals and have unique skills and knowledge that complement other members of the primary healthcare team.
    Next year, our practice and onsite community pharmacy are piloting the first ever pre-registration split between hospital, community and primary care in order to start developing primary care pharmacists for the future. It's very exciting and one of many steps we will need to take as a profession before we can get to the point where it is the norm to have a pharmacist working within a GP surgery.

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