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Pharmacy First service: Why are people hesitant to visit a pharmacy for UTIs and shingles?

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Policy makers and healthcare leaders acknowledge that there’s hesitancy and the mindset of ‘GP first, not Pharmacy First’ among members of the public

With the Pharmacy First services scheduled for launch end of this month, legislators explored the potential of community pharmacies to offer specific diagnostic and treatment services in the second public evidence session of pharmacy inquiry this week (January 16).

The new service, which will enable pharmacists to offer advice and prescribe treatment for seven minor ailments, is expected to alleviate the pressure on the NHS, reduce GP workload, and cut waiting lists.

But MPs and healthcare leaders also acknowledged that there’s hesitancy and the mindset of ‘GP first, not Pharmacy First’ among members of the public.

“We must accept that many patients are used to seeing their GP as their first port of call for many health conditions. Pharmacy First is welcome, but there are going to be some restrictions on how quickly some patients will want to take up some of those services, rather than seeing their GP,” said William Pett, Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Research, Healthwatch England.

What is that hesitancy built around? Health and Social Care Committee Chair Steve Brine MP asked Pett.

Pett cited a Healthwatch England survey conducted in November 2023, which found that while the public were generally positive about going to pharmacy for things like sore throats and earache, the likelihood of patients going to pharmacies for UTIs and shingles was far less.

“One of the top reasons why people were unlikely to go to pharmacy for those two conditions was that they just prefer seeing their GP,” he told the committee.

There’s also lack of awareness about services offered in pharmacies, and privacy is another factor for people’s hesitancy to visit a pharmacy, especially on sensitive issues like UTIs.

“Many patients are not aware that pharmacy offers private consultation rooms, or do not have much faith in the privacy that those consultation rooms offer,” Pett explained.

Another reason is that patients think that they will be referred back to their general practice, if it is a more serious condition, and that could be a real frustration for a lot of patients.

Pett emphasised the need to build confidence among the public that they will be treated for that condition without being referred back to their GP.

Deborah Evans, Clinic Director and Superintendent Pharmacist, Remedi Health, opined that the biggest issue for the sector to deliver the Pharmacy First service will be around capacity.

She reminded the committee about the closures that have happened in community pharmacy due to which those that are still operating are having to do more.

“They are doing more with less, because of the funding model, which is not sufficient to support the sector.

“There is an issue around capacity and around capability, giving pharmacists the time and space to be able to develop,” she said.

 

 

 

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