NHS England is to more than double its funding for a pilot scheme placing pharmacists in GP practice teams, now streaming a total of £31 million into the programme.

Under the plans, the number of pharmacist posts in the pilot will be increasing from 250 to 403, giving more than seven million patients access to expert advice from a clinical pharmacist when they visit their GP.

Pharmacists will be able to consult with and treat patients directly, which should help release some of the pressure on GPs by trimming their casework and allowing them to employ their skills where they are most needed. 

Recent reports have highlighted fears that many patients - particularly the elderly and vulnerable - are not only taking too many medicines but also taking them incorrectly, and that one in 100 overall are at risk from GP prescribing errors. 

It is hoped that the move to install pharmacists in practice teams could also help address this, by offering extra help in managing long-term conditions and increasing access to clinical advice on treatments. Added to which, the move could go some way to adressing the current recruitment crisis in general practice.

Support seems strong on all sides. “Joint working between pharmacists and GPs has the potential to have major benefits for both patients and clinical professionals,” said Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive. “By testing these new ways of working across professional boundaries we are taking another step forward to relieving some of the pressure that GPs are clearly under and ensuring patients see the health professional that best suits their needs”.

“We have a severe shortage of GPs across the UK, and having highly trained pharmacists working with us to take on tasks such as medication management, will help alleviate the intense pressures we are under, and improve patient safety,” added Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

"The feedback that we have received from our members who already have a practice-based pharmacist is that they play an invaluable role, so we are pleased that NHS England has taken the idea so seriously and so swiftly brought it to fruition”.

‘Vote of confidence’

English Pharmacy Board Chair Sandra Gidley also welcomed the news. “It’s a real vote of confidence in the pharmacy profession and a huge step towards the integration of pharmacists into primary care,” she said, noting that the move “reflects the overwhelming response from GPs to this initiative”.

Recruitment of pharmacists for the three-year initiative is to begin immediately, with successful candidates to be in position by Spring next year.

The RPS and National Association of Primary Care are also currently consulting on radical proposals to integrate general practice and community pharmacy, re-purposing resources to alleviate pressure points and improve patient care. 

Current plans include the development of schemes that place community pharmacy as an NHS access point for minor self-limiting conditions and ensure pharmacists and GP’s prioritise support of patients at high risk of a serious health problem, such as frail older people or those with multiple long-term conditions.