GP surgeries and A&E departments across the region are having to deal with more and more patients on a weekly basis.
Richard Wells, superintendent pharmacist at Weldricks, offers a potential solution that involves making local pharmacies the first stop for people with minor ailments.
“It’s the week after Easter and I’ve just heard a story on local radio about people presenting at A&E over the weekend complaining of stomach ache. The majority, it transpires, had simply overindulged with a big lunch and lots of chocolate.
Other A&E Easter ailments included earwax, headaches and common colds. “For me, as a qualified pharmacist for over 30 years, it’s hard to believe that in 2016 some people see a six-hour wait in A&E as normal. They regard the hospital and their GP surgery for that matter, as a place they go to perhaps on a weekly or monthly basis. And all of the ailments above could have been diagnosed and dealt with by my fellow pharmacists or I, thereby easing the pressure on the NHS and ensuring those that really needed to be cared for in A&E were seen and treated quickly and effectively.
“It all comes down to education at the end of the day and every UK medical professional needs to work towards educating their patients and changing their habits. At a time when it is all too clear that many NHS hospitals and GPs are already overstretched, successful integrated working to help address the problem is vital.
“Personally, I don’t think there are enough services available for people with minor ailments so I believe local pharmacies should be promoted as the first port of call for such treatment. With the right tools and the right safeguards in place, pharmacists would be able to support all patients complaining of minor ailments.
“In line with integrated working practices, if the pharmacist feels the patient needs to be referred to another professional they can do so. If not, the pharmacist can follow up by asking the person to pop in again in a few days or, using the new Summary Care Record system to identify additional risks such as allergies or current medical conditions, arrange a follow-up phone call to see how they’re getting on.
“All of this would take pressure off the system and help to reduce the increasing number of unnecessary visits to a GP or A&E department. At the same time, it’s worth noting that many local community pharmacies are open late nights and weekends when it’s simply impossible to make a GP appointment. Longer opening hours mean we can see more people and they don’t ever need to make an appointment.
“So, isn’t it about time that we join together and work a little bit harder to inform people that if they’ve got stomach ache, a sniffly cold, headache or earwax they should make their local pharmacy their very first stop? Maybe we turn the tables and show them just what they could achieve in the six hours they might have spent waiting in A&E or sitting in their GP surgery? Or maybe we simply highlight how much quicker they can start to feel better if they visit their local pharmacy? Whatever we do, we need to bring about change, and soon.”