NHS England has announced that more GP practices across England are to get new, surgery-based clinical pharmacists to help with routine medication and treatment, following a successful pilot scheme which showed increased convenience for patients and reduced workload for doctors.

Over 700 more practices in England are to benefit from having a clinical pharmacist located in their GP surgery, covering up to six million patients and helping to free up GP time, it said.

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 addressing the current recruitment crisis in general practice and help alleviate the growing pressures in the system.

“Clinical pharmacists have added a whole new dimension to patient care by improving the quality and safety of prescribing and helping us make better use of resources,” said GP Dr Chris Dent, who is on the governing body of NHS Norwich Clinical Commissioning group, one of the clinical pharmacist pilot areas.

NHS England is planning to support an extra 1,500 clinical pharmacists to work in general practice by 2021, which is in addition to the over 490 clinical pharmacists already working across approximately 650 GP practices as part of a pilot scheme.

“Wider roll out of NHS England’s programme to place pharmacists in GP surgeries to work as part of the wider practice team is excellent news for general practice, and our patients,” said Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs.

“This initiative is already helping to cut waiting times for patients in some areas, and free up GPs’ time for patients who really need our clinical expertise. Of course, if a patient specifically needs to see a GP, then they will still be able to request this.”