Using pharmacists to handle minor ailments could save the National Health Service more than £1 billion a year, according to new research from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

It says the cost of treating common ailments in community pharmacies is only about £29 per patient, but this spirals to £147 per patient when addressed in A&E and at £82.34 per patient when treated by a GP, also increasing waiting times and cutting the care available for more serious conditions.

The study estimates that 3% of all A&E consultations and 5.5% of GP consultations for common ailments could be be taken care of by pharmacists in the community, which means that more than 650,000 visits to A&E and over 18 million GP consultations every year could be diverted.

The best means of doing so would be to set up a national common ailments service through community pharmacies across England, thus providing easy and equitable access to NHS treatment and advice for conditions such as joint and muscle pain, or respiratory and gastro problems.

Creating capacity

“The NHS can’t afford to wait any longer to create capacity in the system,” said RPS President Mr Ash Soni. “We need to be more strategic and change the services on offer to the public to make best use of the NHS workforce”.

Noting that a common ailments service is only currently offered by one in three pharmacies in England, he stressed that “fast, same-day access to community pharmacists will be of huge benefit to patients, doctors, nurses and the bank balance of the NHS”. 

The Pharmaceutical Journal reported last week that a campaign by the RPS and English Pharmacy Board to promote expanded use of pharmacy will also include a call for pharmacists to be stationed within A&E departments to siphon off and treat minor cases, thus relieving bottlenecks in the system.