The community pharmacy-run minor ailments scheme (MAS) in Scotland has been an overwhelming success, according to independent research which, for the first time, sought the views of patients who use it.
Nearly 90% of the 1,121 patients questioned gave it top marks when asked how satisfied they were with the service. They ranked the consultation experience as “excellent” and the convenient location of a high street pharmacy was the leading reason (66.7%) for patients using the service.
An existing “good” relationship with the community pharmacist was also cited by 62.8% of users as one of the factors that influenced their decision to use the service.
The majority (58%) of users accessed the MAS while seeking help for themselves and 37% did so on behalf of a child.
The most common reason for an MAS consultation was for treatment of an allergy (29%), followed by skin conditions (16%), gastrointestinal issues (11%), infection (10%), respiratory problems (8%) and musculoskeletal pain (7%).
The researchers noted that use of the MAS took pressure off GPs — 59% of users said they would have sought a GP appointment if they could not see the pharmacist, while 56% revealed they would have simply bought over-the-counter medication.
The researchers from Robert Gordon and Strathclyde universities said: “Those using the MAS reported high levels of satisfaction, positive perceptions of consultations, and trust in the service. If the MAS was unavailable, other high-cost healthcare alternatives would be used at a higher cost to the NHS and increased burden of these services and those who provide them.
“It is also recognised by those accessing the service that the MAS enhances access for vulnerable groups and alleviates [the pressure on] the GP service.”
The research, commissioned by Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS), which represents the nation’s community pharmacy owners, was the first of its kind to consider the views of service users since the MAS was introduced in 2006.
In Scotland, the MAS is only available for children, people aged over 60 years, patients with a medical exception certificate and others claiming specific benefits. However, the Scottish government announced in September 2018 that it intends to expand the MAS to all patients. Details of how the expanded model would work and which conditions it would cover are yet to be decided.
Martin Green, chair of the CPS board, said he was “delighted” with the findings, adding: “This report was designed to give us tangible data on the reasons why people use the MAS, what they think of it and which alternative NHS service they would have used if this was unavailable to them. The evidence is clear: the MAS is extremely popular and saves GP time.”
All community pharmacies in Scoland were invited to take part in the research in June and July 2018. Some 1,121 patient questionnaires were completed by service users. Follow-up telephone interviews and further questionnaires were also used.