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Could Doctor-Pharmacist Partnerships Represent the Future for GP Practices?

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Monday 30th March is annual Doctor’s Day. As the name suggests, it is celebration of the important role doctors play in our society and the invaluable service they offer. It is hard to think of any profession more deserving of such recognition, particularly bearing in mind the pressure they are placed under in the modern healthcare landscape.

Despite the best efforts of our general practitioners, however, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the service being delivered to patients in Britain. It has been predicted by the Royal College of General Practice (RCGP) that instances of patients waiting more than a week for an appointment have reached 67 million. And although much of the problem has been attributed to a growing, ageing population and increased retirements among GPs, those who continue to serve their communities have found themselves bearing the brunt of public frustration.

But ahead of this year’s Doctor’s Day, hope for the future has been offered courtesy of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS). They have proposed the integration of pharmacists into the healthcare teams at GP surgeries on order to lighten the load and ease waiting times.

Chairwoman of the RCGP, Dr Maureen Baker, has declared the UK’s workforce of pharmacists a ‘hidden army’ of trained medical professionals whose skills, while being able to lend a helping hand to GPs, are untapped.

What are pharmacists qualified to do?

Unsure what skills pharmacists possess? You’re not alone. A recent YouGov poll revealed that less than a third of respondents were unaware of the skills pharmacists had to offer.

To put it into context, your current GP practice benefits from the expertise of a GP and a practice nurse. Pharmacists’ training lasts one year longer than basic nursing qualifications and one year less than a doctor’s medical school qualification. They are qualified not only to dispense medication but to prescribe it, as well as having the ability to consult with and treat patients directly.

Our ever-aging population means that the majority of consultations GPs deal with are focused upon medication management for chronic conditions. With these consultations and the treatment of generic conditions such as colds and allergies managed by pharmacists – not to mention the labour-intensive paperwork associated – it is thought that GPs will be freed up to focus their attention on complex diagnostic consultations. The end result: a faster, more efficient service for patients.

As part of the team, pharmacists would also be able to liaise with GPs regarding medication and avoid the relatively common issue of over-purchasing. This would allow for the redirection of this misplaced funding directly towards bettering patient care.