Patients will soon be able to get prescriptions for several common ailments straight from their pharmacy without having to visit a GP under new plans announced by the Government.
Ministers say that the reforms could be introduced as early as this winter following a consultation with the health industry. It’s hoped that the plans will help to ease the pressure on GP surgeries, making it easier for patients to be seen by freeing up 15 million appointment slots over the next two years.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said the “ambitious package” will help to transform how care is provided within the health service. “This blueprint will help us to free up millions of appointments for those who need them most, as well as supporting staff so that they can do less admin and spend more time with patients,” she said.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said of the plans: “I am getting on with delivering on my five priorities and transforming primary care is the next part of this Government’s promise to cut NHS waiting lists. I know how frustrating it is to be stuck on hold to your GP practice when you or a family member desperately need an appointment for a common illness.
“We will end the 8am rush and expand the services offered by pharmacies, meaning patients can get their medication quickly and easily,” he added.
Here’s the full list of common conditions that pharmacies will be authorised to hand out medication for under the new plans:
- Sore throat
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Infected insect bites
The blueprint also vows to more than double the number of people able to access blood pressure checks at their local pharmacy, to 2.5 million a year. Self-referrals will also be increased for access to services such as physiotherapy, hearing tests and podiatry without the requirement to see a GP first.
In addition, it’s hoped that almost half a million women will no longer need to speak to a GP or nurse in order to be prescribed oral contraception. Thorrun Govind, the chairwoman of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, described the plans as a “real game-changer” for patients.
However, the plans have been criticised by Labour, with shadow health secretary Wes Streeting commenting: “Expecting the Conservatives to fix this is like expecting an arsonist to put out the fire they started. Rishi Sunak is completely out of touch with the problems facing patients and the NHS.
“He has no plan to address the shortage of GPs, or to reverse the cut in the number of doctors trained every year. The Conservatives’ announcement is merely tinkering at edges, in contrast to the fundamental reform the NHS needs and Labour is offering. Labour will abolish the non-dom tax status to train an extra 7,500 doctors and 10,000 nurses every year, so patients are seen on time again.”
A think tank has also warned that some pharmacies may be unable to offer these new services, due to a shortage of staff, diagnostic tools or consultation rooms. Senior fellow of The King’s Fund Beccy Baird said: “It will be really frustrating for patients to be bumped from pillar to post, only to end up back at the GP.
“Whilst any improvements to make it easier for people to access their local practices are welcome, to make the kinds of system changes needed to reform general practice, it is essential that, over the long-term, primary care is as much of a priority as reducing the hospital backlog,” she added.
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