GPs' and pharmacists' professional bodies have produced a joint statement outlining how improved liaison between them can improve the care provided to patients in the community.

But they add that a culture change is needed between GPs, pharmacists and the public "to allow the collaborative partnership between general practice and community pharmacy to deliver its potential."

The statement, which has been produced by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), identifies the changing role of the community pharmacist from dispenser to generic health provider and the broadening role of the GP, and details how these changes can be harnessed and used for patient benefit.

"The benefits to patents of joint working between general practices and pharmacists are not in doubt," it says. For example, better use of Medicines Use Reviews (MURs) by pharmacists and the practice team can reduce duplication of effort by the primary care team as well as improve patent care through reducing errors and improving adherence to treatment. 

Pharmacist prescribers, working closely with GPs and practice nurses, can also contribute to better patient management and help improve the quality and outcome of patient management in a range of long-term conditions, it adds.

The joint statement also calls on GPs and pharmacists to "be aware of the evidence base and efficacy of the products they promote and supply, and be aware of the tension between clinically-evidenced supplies and non-evidence-based supplies."

The paper makes a total of 62 recommendations and identifies key "building blocks" designed to underpin new closer working, which include: - acknowledging the opportunity for joint working to improve medicines utilisation and cost-effectiveness and to minimise waste; - shared standards and ways of working to ensure consistency of services and information to the public; - better transfer and sharing of patient information facilitated by improved inter-professional IT links; and - joint education and training at undergraduate and post-graduate level.

"Patients may be surprised when they discover that their community pharmacist and their GP do not share the same clinical record and that the local community pharmacist is not always an integral part of the primary care team," say the RCGP and the RPS. 

"Pharmacists play a key role in the long-term management of patients with chronic disease and can see the patient as often as a member of the general practice team. Many members of the public and patients see the pharmacist as a first port of call for advice, not just on their medicines but also on their underlying health problems. This is particularly true for men seeking advice on health issues," they add.

The initiative has been welcomed by Health Minister Earl Howe, who said he applauded the RCGP and the RPS "for taking the lead on such a crucial issue."

"Stronger integration is at the heart of the government's plans to modernise the NHS. If there's one big frustration many patients have, it's that the NHS can seem a bit disjointed. That is why these recommendations are so important. They will help break down the barriers that can often exist between GPs and community pharmacists to get the best care for patients," said the Minister.