Pharmacists should be able to routinely prescribe medicines for people with long-term conditions and refer them directly to other healthcare professionals to ease pressures within primary care, according to a new report published by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

The care of people with LTCs already accounts for around 50 percent of all GP appointments, 64 percent of all outpatient appointments and 70 percent of all health and social care spending.

But the number of patients with LTCs is expected to rise from 15 million to 18 million by 2025, raising concerns over the NHS' ability to cope with this increased demand on already stretched services.

"The double whammy of an ageing population and the associated increase in the number of people living with one or more long term conditions is pushing the NHS to crisis point. To cope with this demand we need a radical reform of how care is provided to this group of patients and the time has come for the Government to enable this to happen," said RPS chair Sandra Gidley.

The RPS is calling for a change in training policy to enable more pharmacists to become prescribers. This, it argues, means pharmacists could take on the management of patients whose condition is stable but require regular monitoring and medication updates to stay well, keeping them out of hospital or GP surgeries.

Also, allowing pharmacists to directly refer to other healthcare professionals will remove steps in the care pathway, thus getting patients faster access to the right treatment while freeing up GP resources.

Just 6 percent (3,319) of the total number of 54,500 registered pharmacists are currently prescribers, the RPS notes. "Unless we change the way we care for people with long term conditions projections show that demand will become unmanageable. Neither the NHS nor patients can afford to wait any longer to create capacity in the system," warned Gidley.

The Patients Association said it "warmly welcomes" the proposal to train pharmacists as prescribers, "not just because it will take pressure off GP surgeries meaning a better service for patients who need to see their GP, but also because it is better for patients who don't need to see their GP. It is a win-win situation for patients."