The NHS had faced a fierce backlog of patients in wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and the healthcare system has struggled to cope under the pressure. As nurses are set to strike amid an ongoing pay dispute, the pressure on general practice is expected to escalate as patients struggle to access essential services. Chief Executive of the Company Chemists’ Association Malcolm Harrison reported community pharmacies could support the NHS by removing up to 42 million appointments from general practice. However, he warned the system is chronically underfunded and vital resources had been inappropriately diverted to other areas of the healthcare system.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Mr Harrison reported: “Community pharmacy could easily remove 42 million appointments from general practice and safely deal with them, if it was funded properly.
“NHS England themselves recognize there is a significant volume of workload that GPs currently do that could be safely moved into community pharmacy. There is no capacity to do that at the moment because we’re already stretched.
“The NHS has funded additional roles in general practice which has then moved the workforce away from the very place that needs it to be able to take the pressure off general practice.
“They are looking to move the demand from general practice to pharmacy but they are moving the resource from pharmacy to general practice, which doesn’t sound like a sound plan to me.”
In September 2022 alone, 29.2 million general practice appointments were carried out by the NHS, of which around 859,000 related to Covid vaccinations.
Ninety percent of all appointments made in September were attended by the patient, but only 47.3 percent of appointments were actually carried out by a GP.
21.6 percent of the appointments were conducted by a nurse and the rest by other practice staff.
The British Medical Association has previously warned general practice is in “crisis” as staff are “exhausted” under the pressure of “unmanageable workloads”.
Read more: Nurses vote to strike in first-ever nationwide action over pay
Mr Harrison predicted that, with increasing pressure on general practice services and the possibility of a nurse shortage within hospitals, patients would be “displaced” to community pharmacies in their time of need.
Speaking of strikes within the NHS, he added: “A nursing strike will inevitably force patients to seek the urgent care they need outside of hospitals. As they did during the pandemic, when they find that their GP cannot help them, many people will once again turn to their local pharmacy.”
However, despite the anticipated influx of patients to pharmacies, the industry has not seen an increase in funding from the NHS in close to a decade.
Mr Harrison said: “The last time that the NHS increased funding for pharmacies was in 2014. In 2016, they cut £200 million of funding from pharmacies and we haven’t had a penny increase since.”
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