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Can pharmacists prescribe antibiotics? The new plans for pharmacy prescriptions in England, explained

Pharmacies in England will be allowed to offer prescriptions to patients for seven common health conditions under new Government plans.

Rishi Sunak hopes the measures will help end the “all-too stressful wait” for appointments by potentially freeing up around 15 million slots at doctors’ surgeries over the next two years.

However, shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting, accused the Prime Minister of being “completely out of touch” with the issues facing patients and the NHS.

What can pharmacies offer prescriptions for?

At present, some pharmacists hold a qualification as an independent or supplementary prescriber, which allows them to prescribe medication to patients.

Under these new proposals, patients will be able to obtain certain prescription medicines, as well as oral contraception, directly from a wider range of pharmacies without a prior GP consultation.

Pharmacists will be able to issue prescriptions to treat the following seven conditions;

  • earache;
  • uncomplicated urinary tract infection;
  • sore throat;
  • sinusitis;
  • impetigo;
  • shingles;
  • infected insect bites.

Patients will also no longer need to speak to a practice nurse or GP to access oral contraception before obtaining it from a pharmacy.

Backed by £645m of Government spending, the number of people able to access blood pressure checks in pharmacies would be more than doubled to 2.5 million a year under the plans.

Self-referrals will also be increased, opening up access for up to half a million people a year to services such as physiotherapy, hearing tests and podiatry without the requirement to see a GP first, NHS England said.

NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said the “ambitious package” would help transform how care is provided within the health service.

“This blueprint will help us to free up millions of appointments for those who need them most, as well as supporting staff so that they can do less admin and spend more time with patients,” she said.

Will the new plans work?

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said the measures would make use of a highly-skilled workforce.

Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, welcomed the plans, describing them as “a real game-changer for patients”.

“They will provide better access to healthcare, helping to reduce the strain on other parts of the NHS and provide patients with the care they need, when they need it,” she added.

However, the King’s Fund health think-tank has warned some pharmacies will not be able to provide prescriptions because they may not have access to diagnostic tools, or sufficient staff and consultation rooms.

Senior fellow Beccy Baird said that “not all pharmacies will be able to offer these services and it will be really frustrating for patients to be bumped from pillar to post, only to end up back at the GP”.

She added: “Whilst any improvements to make it easier for people to access their local practices are welcome, to make the kinds of system changes needed to reform general practice, it is essential that, over the long-term, primary care is as much of a priority as reducing the hospital backlog.”

Can NHS 111 prescribe antibiotics?

You can use the NHS’ 111 service to request a limited emergency supply of a medicine you have completely run out of.

This must be a medicine you are prescribed regularly, through a repeat prescription. You will be charged your usual prescription fee. If you do not usually pay, it will be free.

You cannot use 111 to get antibiotics for a new or recent problem, or controlled drugs that require identification to collect.

The NHS also advises people to call 111 if you need to:

  • discuss complex medical problems;
  • discuss worries about a long-term condition;
  • get end-of-life care, or report a death;
  • report child protection or vulnerable adult concerns.

To access the service, simply dial 111 on your phone.

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