Scheme to get people to use the pharmacy first is failing in Shropshire – says expert

A scheme to get people to use the pharmacy as the first point of call for common ailments is failing in Shropshire compared to other counties, an expert has said.

Lorraine Anderson has worked as a locum pharmacist in Shropshire, Cheshire and Powys before starting a permanent role at Lunts Pharmacy in Drovers’ House, Craven Arms, three months ago.

And she said the Think Pharmacy First scheme, which encourages people to use the pharmacy first instead of their GP, needs to be highlighted more to patients in Shropshire.

“The scheme is much better advertised and facilitated elsewhere, mainly in Cheshire where it works very well,” Lorraine said.

“In Shropshire, I have found it is not as well promoted and therefore people don’t tend to know about it and seem surprised when I mention it.

“It would help if there was more awareness of this scheme in order to reduce pressure on GP surgeries because I worry that at the moment people are making appointments with their GP for ailments that could be dealt with in the pharmacy simply because they aren’t aware.”

The NHS scheme, updated last year, aims to ensure patients can access self-care advice and where appropriate can be supplied with over the counter medicines at NHS expense for children and those who don’t pay for prescriptions.

The scheme is aimed at any many common ailments such as acute conjunctivitis, bites, stings and allergies, constipation or diarrhoea, earache, sore throat, athlete’s foot, threadworm, haemorrhoids and warts and verrucas.

It can also apply to young children and conditions such as teething.

Under the scheme patients would take their NHS number and some ID into a pharmacy, as well as proof of exemption from paying for prescriptions. This would entitle them to free advice and a free prescription if needed.

“The NHS is of course under great pressure,” Lorraine added.

“This scheme is offered as a quicker alternative for patients to access healthcare rather than via a GP or out of hours provider.

“But this scheme can also really benefit the frontline pressure on GPs if promoted and used more effectively.

“In Shropshire, I have found it certainly isn’t used as commonly as in other areas I have worked, particularly Cheshire.

“I want to raise awareness of it here to help make the intended impact of reducing pressure on GP surgeries.”

Martin Lunt, who runs pharmacies across Shrewsbury, Craven Arms and Pontesbury, said his staff are always willing to give expert advice when patients need it.

He said: “We have been fully behind the pharmacy first scheme since it launched and we work hard to relieve any pressure we can on the NHS system.

“It is interesting hearing Lorraine’s experiences and how they differ from county to county, I would like to think we can now go some way towards making the scheme more effective in Shropshire.

“I thank her for bringing this to our attention and will work to improve the service – I hope other pharmacies and medical professionals in our county do as well.”