United Kingdom

Pharmacists in England Accuse General Practitioners of Sabotaging Pharmacy First Program

Pharmacists are accusing General Practitioners (GPs) in England of obstructing Rishi Sunak’s primary care initiative, Pharmacy First, by declining to refer patients with minor ailments to pharmacists.

According to pharmacists, many GPs in England are not directing patients to them for treatment, and some are even refusing to participate in the Pharmacy First scheme altogether. Last May, Sunak introduced the scheme as a key component of his plan to streamline primary care services, aiming to alleviate the burden on overwhelmed GPs and reduce wait times for patients seeking medical attention. The initiative was also intended to offer patients more options for healthcare and to open up 15 million GP appointments over two years for individuals with more urgent medical needs.

In January, the scheme was expanded to allow patients to seek assistance from pharmacists for seven common conditions, including earache, sinusitis, sore throat, and insect bites. Despite more than 10,000 community pharmacies being prepared to help patients, a dispute has arisen between GPs and pharmacists over GPs’ alleged reluctance to refer patients.

A survey of 470 community pharmacies by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) found that three-quarters of pharmacists are not receiving regular referrals from GPs, with some reporting no referrals at all. Concerned about the impact on the expansion of NHS care by pharmacists, the NPA has urged the health secretary, Victoria Atkins, to convene an urgent summit.

While pharmacists emphasize the convenience and efficiency of Pharmacy First, some GPs are reportedly refusing to refer patients for certain conditions without explanation. The British Medical Association (BMA) acknowledges the challenges affecting the Pharmacy First rollout but denies that GPs are unwilling to participate. Dr. Julius Parker of the BMA’s GPs committee for England cites concerns about the rapid rollout of the scheme and inadequate IT infrastructure.

The Department of Health and Social Care supports the Pharmacy First service and urges GPs to refer patients to pharmacists when appropriate, emphasizing the potential benefits of the initiative in freeing up GP appointments and improving patient access to care.

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