Millions of patients in England will be able to get prescriptions for seven common diseases as well as more blood pressure checks and birth control pills directly from pharmacies as part of a proposal to tackle the GP surgery crisis.
Women suffering from earache, sore throat, sinusitis, impetigo, shingles, infected insect bites and uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTIs) will be prescribed by pharmacists without having to see a doctor or nurse first.
The reforms, due to be set out on Tuesday by the government and NHS England in the Primary Care Plan, aim to exempt 15m GP visits over the next two years.
In the last five months, 24 million consultations took place more than two weeks after the patient reported it – an average of almost 5 million per month, data shows.
The plan was widely welcomed by health leaders, with Thorrun Govind, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of England, calling it “a real breakthrough” for patients.
But experts said not all pharmacies will be able to offer all or some of the new services, meaning the upheaval could see frustrated patients “tossed from pillar to pillar, only to end up back again.” at the family doctor.
There are also concerns that patients may not be able to recognize the seriousness of some conditions, including whether a UTI can be classified as “uncomplicated”.
The country’s top GP said the plan was not the solution urgently needed to retain and recruit the thousands of GPs needed to keep the NHS afloat.
The proposals, which follow measures announced on Monday to make it easier to make GP appointments via online tools, are backed by £645m over two years. Ministers hope the reforms will start this winter after consultations with industry.
The number of people who will have access to blood pressure measurements in pharmacies will more than double to 2.5 million a year, up from 900,000 last year. Half a million women will no longer need to talk to a nurse or GP to access oral contraception and can go to a pharmacy instead, NHS England has said.
There will also be an increase in the number of self-referrals for access to services such as physiotherapy, hearing tests and podiatry without prior recommendation from a GP.
Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, will hail the plan as evidence of measures to shorten waiting times for the NHS as it seeks to bounce back from the Conservatives’ tragic results in local elections which saw them lose around 1,000 council seats.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said the “ambitious package” would help change the way healthcare is delivered. “This plan will help us free up millions of visits for those who need them most, as well as support staff, so they can deal with less administration and spend more time with patients,” she said.
But Beccy Baird, a senior fellow at King’s Fund, a health think tank, said not all pharmacies would be able to offer these services, causing frustration and delays that could mean patients are “shuttled from pillar to pillar, only only to end up back in primary care.”