By Stephen Thomas

It is surprising and disappointing to hear that the Royal College of General Practice chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne recently said that ‘pharmacists are not a substitute for GPs and the services they provide must not be seen as ‘GPs on the cheap.’

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.

Alongside GPs and A&E, community pharmacy is the third pillar of access for patients to NHS care, support and advice. 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. We can deal with minor ailments, but also ‘red flag’ conditions which a GP needs to be aware of.

In Scotland we see a pharmacy first approach which enables GPs and pharmacy teams to play their respective and inter-related professional roles in caring for their communities. That is the way forward.

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.

Stephen Thomas is superintendent pharmacist at Rowlands Pharmacy.

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