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Pharmacists to the rescue?
You may have seen in the news recently that NHS England have launched a £15m scheme to employ clinical pharmacists in GP surgeries over a 3 year period. The aim of the scheme is to focus primarily on GP practices that are under the most pressure and need help. But what real benefits can this bring to practices, and what are the barriers?
The benefits of a pharmacist employment scheme
Apparently 1 in 20 prescriptions contain an error, and the GMC believes there could be an improvement in prescribing and monitoring if pharmacists were directly involved. We know that community pharmacists focus on helping patients to receive the best possible therapy after medication has been prescribed, and every prescription is checked to make sure the dose and strength is appropriate for the patient. Patients already have the opportunity in pharmacies to have a private consultation with a pharmacist and to discuss their medicines and how they should be taken. The concept for this new service to be replicated in GP practices includes closer working with GPs and could reduce prescribing errors by 50%. The scheme could also increase the uptake of new medicines and deal with shortages of certain medicines by suggesting alternatives.
The potential barriers
Collaboration is vital but often this can be difficult due to poor communication systems and IT. Dr Clare Gerada, former Chair of the RCGP who appears to be pro-pharmacy, said recently: “Pharmacy’s role is around supporting concordance with medicine and supporting long-term conditions.” However, she also said, “Pharmacists have to be honest about where they can add value.” It’s still unclear how much of an impact this new service will have on NHS prescribing costs. Many GPs are still dubious about how much benefit employing a pharmacist can bring – particularly since failures in communication can make it more difficult for GPs to identify what advice has been given to patients. There are some good examples of collaborative working with pharmacists out there though, some reducing waiting times to see a GP.
Pharmacists giving flu vaccines
You may recall that last year some GPs complained about pharmacists taking away their revenue for the influenza vaccine and the service was reviewed because of the complaints. However, from September adult at-risk patients will again be able to have their seasonal flu jabs from participating pharmacies. Pharmacy staff will be expected to identify eligible patients and encourage them to have their vaccination.
BMA GPs committee chair Chaand Nagpaul feels it’s questionable whether this new enhanced service will have increased clinical benefits for the public because there is little evidence that it will increase uptake in this particular group of patients, and failures in data collection can make it more difficult for flu immunisation targets to be met.
Nevertheless, my advice is to advertise your flu clinics early and be proactive when identifying eligible patients, encouraging them to have their flu jab in the surgery, there and then, if you are able and have a system in place to do so.
Alison Lowerson – QCS Expert GP Practice Manager Contributor