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New government plans to expand role of pharmacies

New government plans could mean that patients with 'minor' ailments will receive treatment from their local pharmacy rather than going to their GP.

The proposals are outlined in the recently unveiled pharmacy white paper and would require Primary Care Trusts to commission pharmacies to prescribe medicine for coughs, colds and headaches.

Pharmacies will also be encouraged to become "healthy living" centres, supporting people with long-term conditions including diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and eczema.

Screening and vaccinations

Pharmacies will screen for vascular disease and issue flu and other vaccinations. The government estimates that if people with the above conditions went to a pharmacy instead of a GP, the NHS could save £400m a year by 2011.

“Pharmacists have much to offer when it comes to providing integrated care for people with diabetes.  For example, pharmacies can provide more accessible information services as their extended opening hours can complement the currently restricted opening hours of most GP surgeries." said Simon O’Neill, Director of Care, Information, and Advocacy Services at Diabetes UK.

Important Role

Simon added: “They also have an important role to play when it comes to offering diabetes screening or other health checks such as blood pressure and cholesterol level checks that are relevant to people with diabetes.  As diabetes can lead to many serious complications including heart disease and stroke, the fact that pharmacies could also offer tests for cardiovascular problems would be beneficial.

“As people with diabetes tend to be prescribed the same treatment for long periods of time, pharmacists should be able to make getting repeat prescriptions easier without people having to go through their surgery. 

“Nevertheless, we also need to make sure that both GPs and pharmacists work together to complement each other and offer truly integrated care, for example by making sure that any results of tests conducted in a pharmacy would be effectively communicated to the GP. Pharmacists should also only be asked to take on a role for which they are competent and have received adequate training.”

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