Choose pharmacy – nice message. Right Care – sound thinking, especially when it’s a pharmacist as we’re all clinicians, right? Treat people close to home, even keep them out of overcrowded Emergency Departments. Pharmacy First – snappy. Access, convenience, expertise, a one-stop shop, right care too. Ticks all the boxes. The other side of the coin. Super-busy GP practices, a record numbers of GPs looking forward to imminent retirement while others choose sessional work over the hassle of partnership.
But at a time when everyone from Health Ministers (Vaughan Gething in Wales, see page 4) and chief pharmaceutical officers down (Andrew Evans and Bruce Warner, p9) are promoting the pharmacy network as the vital cog in primary care we all know it to be, who’s going against the grain? Step forward our tech savvy Secretary of State’s favourite kind of GP – the ones you can access on your phone.
Freed from the burdens of everyday GP practice, these characters clearly have time to burn. Not for them this Right Care or Pharmacy First nonsense. “Got a headache?” asks Babylon’s GP at hand Instagram ad. “Got a cold?” Don’t bother with a pharmacy - get yourself online and “See a doctor now”.
Here’s another one: LIVI is “providing NHS services” in partnership with 40 local GP practices in North West Surrey. “Don’t struggle to get an appointment or shiver your way to the surgery,” its winter leaflet said. “Our NHS GPs are ready to help with those wintry symptoms.” Like colds and coughs, dry skin, sore throats, flu like symptoms… There’s a helpful list of year round symptoms too, including acne, constipation, diarrhoea, hair loss, headaches, indigestion. It goes on. You know, the kind of conditions GPs are not supposed to prescribe for any more in order to save £150 million a year.
You can’t deny it’s a great offer. See the next available GP in minutes, including in the evenings and at weekends. I’m trying to place those benefits somewhere… The service is available 91 hours a week, so not quite a hundred, then.
In a busy GP shift, the ‘easy’ sore throat is a few minutes respite, but come on. “See a GP by video. Free on the NHS. In minutes”? Why, when the NHS is investing millions encouraging people to use it appropriately, including by not burdening GPs with stuff you can largely treat yourself, or with a little help from your local pharmacy.
Community pharmacy is more than capable of dealing with the immediate management of self-treatable conditions, as most in the system seem to want it to, without the NHS undermining it with nonsense like this. A GP consultation in minutes for an insect bite? Really?
If primary care networks are about redefining the patient pathway and right care, then they need to tackle this kind of waste of expensive professional resource. Providing whizzy ways to keep self-treatable conditions within general practice won’t help with shifting costs and it certainly won’t convince people they can look after themselves.