Pharmacists to take on GP appointments

By Viktoria Yordanova

More than 20,000 pharmacists and physiotherapists will take over GP appointments in a bid to cut NHS waiting lists.

The changes aim to free up doctors to treat more patients with serious conditions, as the new staff will take responsibility of some of the 300 million GP bookings made each year. The five-year NHS plan was agreed with the British Medical Association.

Patients calling their surgery to make an appointment will be questioned by receptionists about the nature and symptoms of their illness. If it is concluded that a patient’s condition is not serious enough to be treated by a GP, people will be offered a slot to see a pharmacists or a paramedic instead.

‘The NHS plan will definitely help ease pressure off doctors. The waiting lists will become shorter and people will not have to schedule their illness for a convenient appointment slot, while their condition is getting worse. Patients will simply not wait for days or sometimes weeks to see a doctor’, said Nicholas, 58, a local GP.

The average appointments lasts about eight minutes, which according to GPs is not enough to deal with the diseases patients suffer from, thus more health workers need to be employed.

Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England said that the revolutionary NHS plan ‘represents the biggest boost to general practice in more than 15 years, giving patients more convenient services at their local GP surgery while breaking down the divide between family doctors and community health services.’

Along with paramedics, medical assistants and support workers will be among the 20 000 workers that will be employed to handle routine cases.

Officials say that pharmacists could be engaged with detailed medicines reviews and routine follow-ups of patients after operation, while community paramedics are expected to carry out home visits, thus saving the elderly population from going to hospitals.

The workforce will also include ‘social prescribers’, who will work to deal with non-medical problems like loneliness.

‘This package sets us on the road to rebuilding not only general practice but also the wider primary health care team, delivering an expanded workforce embedded within practices and giving GPs a leadership role in bringing together the community healthcare team,’ said Dr Richard Vautrey, the chairman of the  British Medical Association GP committee.

Under the new NHS plan, doctors will be prohibited from advertising any private services or running them from their surgery. The new ban follows after numerous concerns that the line between the NHS and private practice is getting blurred.

 ‘If implemented correctly, this contract could cultivate a profession that future doctors are eager to join,’ says Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard

In order to implement the changes, NHS will invest an extra £4.5billion into GP surgeries over the next five years. The money will also be used for setting up Skype appointments and providing additional evening and weekend GP slots.

‘If implemented correctly, this contract could cultivate a profession that future doctors are eager to join, and where existing GPs want to remain and can enjoy working,’ said Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs.

However, some patients remain uncertain about seeing a health worker who does not have the same qualifications as their GP.

 ‘Employing extra health workers might indeed improve services and make waiting lists shorter. But what will happen if paramedic and physios miss symptoms of dangerous diseases only doctors are able to detect in early stage?’, said Carla Bertoncelli, a student from the University of Essex.

However, Dr Richard Vautrey is confident that ‘these widespread changes will deliver the best not just for GPs across England, but also for the patients they treat on a daily basis’.

The recruitment plan will be finished by 2023-24.