Despite the government’s commitment to ramp up GP numbers by an extra 5,000 by 2020, a scathing new report from the Health Foundation has found that the number of doctors working in the community is continuing to fall.
Authors of the report,
Rising Pressure: The NHS Workforce Challenge
, warn that “there is no immediate or easy end in sight to nursing or GP shortages across the NHS,” and they highlight a 2% drop in the numbers of practicing GPs since 2015.
“This is of particular concern given the importance of primary care and community health services for the NHS’s ambition to transform services as outlined in the ‘Five year forward view’,” they say.
But a spokesman for the Pharmacists’ Defence Association called for much more use to be made of community pharmacists and that not doing so was a “missed opportunity”.
“Doctors are experts in diagnosis, but pharmacists are experts in medicines management — people diagnosed with long-term conditions for example do not necessarily need to take up their GP’s time when they need to discuss changes in medication.”
He said that community pharmacists could also play a key role in improving public health, and called on the government to consider better integrating community pharmacists into the health care system.
“The government should look at how it targets and rewards pharmacy owners, so that they are incentivised to help improve public health,” he added.
Sandra Gidley, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society England said that community pharmacists were already relieving work pressure on GPs by offering patients advice and treatment for minor ailments, suggesting how to improve their overall health and use medication most effectively.
She said that community pharmacists were also frequently taking on more clinical roles including the management and monitoring of long-term conditions, as well as delivering flu vaccinations, and conducting medicines reviews.
“Pharmacists are increasingly a resource in managing patients with complex medicines requiring frequent monitoring, patients with problematic polypharmacy or those with special medicine needs. There are many examples of this occurring across the country as community pharmacists become more integrated into the primary care team,” she added.
The think tank’s report highlights increased pressure on GPs workload — something which community pharmacists can help to relieve. It cites figures published by NHS Digital which show that the average number of patients per GP has risen by 3.2% in the past two years.