Virgin Care supports NHS’s call to encourage people to visit pharmacists

Virgin Care is supporting the NHS’s call to encourage people to use their pharmacy first to get more convenient and timely expert advice on a minor illness instead of opting to see a GP.

Recent research into public use and awareness of pharmacists shows that 80 per cent of adults surveyed in the South West said they were aware that pharmacists are qualified healthcare professionals who can give advice on most common illnesses. However, just 16 per cent said they would get advice from the pharmacist for minor health concerns.

The NHS is encouraging people to use their pharmacy first in a move which could help free up GP time for sicker patients and nationally help save the NHS around £850 million each year.

James Andrews, National Quality Pharmacist for Virgin Care, said: “Local pharmacy teams have a key role in providing people with easy-access to quality healthcare.

“Using their clinical expertise and practical knowledge, pharmacists can recognise, advise on and treat a wide range of minor illnesses and most pharmacies have a consultation area where they can confidentially discuss symptoms in private.

“Pharmacists are also ideally placed to advise about other NHS services and refer people on if necessary, including to a medical health professional if they need it.”

Around 95 per cent of people across the country live within a 20 minute walk of a local community pharmacy, making pharmacists extremely accessible and a valuable first port of call for minor health concerns such as coughs, colds, tummy troubles or teething.

Around 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million visits to A&E are for self-treatable conditions – such as coughs and tummy troubles – at a cost of more than £850 million each year to the NHS. This is the equivalent of more than 220,000 hip replacements or 880,000 cataract operations.

The NHS is working with community pharmacies to increase the range of patient services they provide including asthma audits and flu vaccinations and to promote the clinical expertise available from the pharmacy team.

The call for people to use their local pharmacist first for advice is part of the Stay Well Pharmacy campaign.

NHS England South West Medical Director, Dr Caroline Gamlin, said: “Pharmacists are highly trained healthcare professionals who can be easily accessed to give advice for minor health concerns.

“It’s not only quicker and easier for patients, it also frees up more GP appointments for those who really need them.”

A survey conducted for the campaign showed that while 73 per cent of people in the South West agreed they trust advice from their pharmacist, there were misconceptions about the level of service this highly trained group of healthcare professionals can offer in terms of advice and expertise.

The survey also showed that 27 per cent of people in the South West felt it is difficult to discuss health concerns in private with a pharmacist, with many not being aware that more than nine out of 10 pharmacies have a private consultation room.

Also 27 per cent felt they would need to visit the GP anyway, so go direct to the doctor in the first instance. However, NHS England found that among adults in the South West who have received advice from a pharmacist in the past six months for themselves or their child, 70 per cent found it useful and 22 per cent needed to go to the GP afterwards.

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