Pharmacists in England are now able to provide treatments for seven minor ailments, including sore throats and earaches, without patients needing to see a doctor. The Pharmacy First scheme allows most chemists to issue prescriptions without the need for appointments or referrals, potentially saving GP surgeries around 10 million appointments annually. However, concerns have been raised about funding and recent pharmacy closures.
Patients can access the new service by walking into a pharmacy or through referral by NHS 111, urgent treatment centres, emergency departments or their GP. Those not registered with a GP can also use the service.
Pharmacists can conduct confidential consultations and advise on treatments, including antibiotics. If more specialist or follow-up care is needed, patients will be referred onwards.
The ailments pharmacists can now prescribe medicines for include: sore throat, earache, sinusitis, impetigo, shingles, infected insect bites, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women.
In addition to this new service, pharmacies already offer advice on medication usage, side-effects and disposal. They also provide emergency contraception and blood pressure checks. Some pharmacies offer advice on quitting smoking, weight loss, and screening and treatment for chlamydia.
During a consultation, the pharmacist may ask about symptoms and previous medical issues. They may also request consent to check the patient’s health record if accessible. For some conditions, an examination may be performed. The consultation will be recorded and shared with GPs to update the patient’s record.
Over 90% of community chemists have registered to deliver the new service, according to NHS England. They will receive £15 per consultation plus £1,000 a month if they see a minimum number of patients.
Despite the positive reception of the scheme, concerns about pharmacy closures persist. The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies has warned that community pharmacies in England are “severely underfunded”. Without greater funding, more pharmacies may close, increasing the workload for remaining pharmacies. NHS England has stated that £645m is being invested over two years to expand services offered by community pharmacies.