The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has said that good progress has been made in the roll-out of practice-based pharmacists and that “real benefits” are being seen where the scheme is working.
The comments were included in the RCGP’s annual assessment of NHS England’s ‘General practice forward view’ (GPFV), which was launched in April 2016.
While the report expressed disappointment that the GPFV was falling short on its pledge to build the GP workforce by 5,000 more full-time doctors by 2020, the RCGP was positive about NHS England’s pharmacy-related commitments.
In a survey of members, the RCGP reported that only 12% said they were unaware that they could receive support or funding for the practice-based pharmacist scheme, indicating the highest awareness among a number of schemes proposed under the GPFV.
The GPFV promised more than £100m of investment to support an extra 1,500 clinical pharmacists to work in general practice within the next three years, on top of 490 clinical pharmacists already working across 650 practices as part of a pilot scheme.
According to the RCGP, following the first wave of the roll-out, 215 pharmacists have been approved across 730 practices, with a second wave expected to place an additional 300 pharmacists across a further 1,049 practices.
Some RCGP members reported the benefits of having pharmacists in practice, saying that they helped to manage workload and reduce costs.
One GP from the Midlands said their practice-based pharmacist was now “a valued member of the team dealing with medication requests, medication reviews, changes following discharge from hospital and some undifferentiated patient face-to-face contact”.
Another GP from south-west England described their practice-based pharmacist as “excellent”.
“She has made a large difference to trying to control our costs and, in particular, enabling bulk changes to medication. Having failed to make our prescribing budget savings in the past we are now improving,” they added.
Some other GPs said they only received a small amount of pharmacist time or reported that non-prescribing pharmacists had a limited impact on workload, but that there was a marked desire to be able to recruit more prescriber pharmacists.
Sandra Gidley, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) English Pharmacy Board, who campaigned for pharmacists to work in GP surgeries, said: “I am delighted to see that the RCGP recognises the value of practice-based pharmacists.
“The full potential of pharmacists working in this role has still to be realised and I very much hope that the practice pharmacists forge strong links with their colleagues in the community and in hospital.”
Liz Butterfield, president of the Primary Care Pharmacy Association (PCPA), agreed that NHS England had made good progress with the practice-based pharmacist scheme but said the PCPA would like to see a career structure developing in primary care, with more opportunities for pharmacists to rotate between sectors of the profession.
“The PCPA would want to ensure education and training is also available to pharmacists outside of the NHS England programme to support the workforce development across the pharmacy profession,” she said.
”In line with the RPS, the PCPA is supportive of greater integrated working, with practice pharmacists increasingly improving links with specialist pharmacists and community pharmacy, and is keen to support care being provided in the most appropriate and convenient setting for patients.”
The RCGP report recorded an improvement in access to the summary care record (SCR) by community pharmacy. NHS England committed to a full roll-out by March 2017, and the RCGP said take-up was now at 77%, up from 55% in January 2017.
The annual assessment also highlights that approximately 32,000 pharmacy professionals have now been trained to use the SCR.
“By truly integrating across all sectors and by making better use of the SCR we can, at last, provide joined-up pharmaceutical care for all patients,” said Gidley.
The report’s only recommendation in relation to pharmacy was to ensure that the practice-based pharmacist scheme was communicated more widely among GPs.