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Pharmacist criticises RCGP chair’s ‘GPs on the cheap’ remarks

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Pharmacist criticises RCGP chair’s ‘GPs on the cheap’ remarks

By Neil Trainis

Rowlands Pharmacy superintendent pharmacist Stephen Thomas has described comments by the Royal College of General Practitioners chair Kamila Hawthorne, in which she said pharmacists should not be regarded as “GPs on the cheap,” as inaccurate and insulting.

Responding to the publication of a report by the All-Party Pharmacy Group last week that called for community pharmacies to be better funded and the pharmacy sector to be more involved in health policy development, professor Hawthorne warned the government that pharmacists should not work beyond their competence and are not the answer to a workforce “crisis” in general practice which, in her view, is better equipped at handling patients with complex, multiple health problems.

She acknowledged pharmacy has been hit by a workforce crisis and insisted it was “right” that pharmacies receive support “to stay viable and available for people with minor illnesses and ailments,” describing the help they give GP practices as “invaluable.” However, she insisted “pharmacists are not a substitute for GPs.”

“While we are keen to see initiatives that will ease the pressure on our struggling family doctor service, pharmacists should not be expected to work beyond their areas of competency, and the government will find that their role is not a solution to the chronic shortage of GPs as many patients come to see us with more than one problem, and these can be complex,” professor Hawthorne said in a statement on the RCGP website last week.

Thomas (pictured) said her comments were “surprising and disappointing” and insisted community pharmacy “has never positioned itself as a ‘cheap’ alternative to GP care.”

“Rather we have said people want, need and value the right care, at the right time, provided by the most appropriate healthcare professional,” he said, describing community pharmacy as the “third pillar” of the NHS after general practice and A&E.

“From illness prevention through to long-term condition management, community pharmacy is essential to our NHS ecosystem: to describe the sector as ‘cheap substitutes’ is inaccurate and insulting. We provide appropriate professional care at all times and it is surprising Professor Kamila Hawthorne does not appear to recognise that.

“Expanding the role of community pharmacy with an appropriate, significant funding uplift which the NHS desperately needs has always been within the context of professional competency. We are not there to ‘substitute’ for GPs but rather work with them as allied professionals dedicated to patient care.”

Thomas said pharmacies were not only able to deal with minor ailments but also “red-flag conditions which a GP needs to be aware of” and used the “pharmacy first approach” in Scotland as evidence of GPs and pharmacy teams working together effectively.

“Pharmacists are not ‘GPs on the cheap.’ They are critical to help our NHS enable people to live longer and healthier lives whilst helping to burden share patient demand,” he said. 

Professor Hawthorne also said pharmacy premises “infrastructure” needed “considerable upgrading” to provide “confidential services to patients” and warned that was unlikely “to be a money-saving option.”

“Patients should be able to get high quality, safe and appropriate care when they need it – and in many cases, they will need the expert diagnostic skills and expertise of a GP,” she said, citing NHS figures revealing the average full-time GP cares for 120 more patients than they did in 2019 despite 737 fewer fully qualified, full-time GPs now working in the NHS.

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