A new scheme to be introduced by NHS England will see patients referred to pharmacies for testing and treatment of sore throats.
It is claimed that this new initiative will save GP appointments, cut down on the use of antibiotics, and allow patients with more serious ailments gain access to doctors.
The chief pharmacy advisor of the government has been instrumental in the policy, which is intended to reduce pressure on surgeries.
But the General Practitioners Committee has not been entirely positive about the plans, wondering why such a wide-ranging scheme wis being introduced based on one small pilot.
The GPC even believes that there is the possibility that the initiative could lead to the unnecessary usage of antibiotics in some cases.
The scheme, referred to as Sore Throat Test and Treat, was piloted at 35 Boots pharmacies in England in 2014/15.
A study of the pilots suggested that the scheme that could ultimately save 800,000 GP visits for sore throats on an annual basis.
Dr Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, suggested that the scheme will have a positive impact on the utilisation of the skills of pharmacists.
“This is a good example of how the NHS wants to make the most of pharmacists clinical skills. It will help avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics whilst reducing the pressure on busy GPs.”
But Dr Andrew Green, chair of the GPC clinical and prescribing subcommittee, suggested that he “would be reluctant to roll-out nationally a service based on the results of one small study”.
Green believes that understanding the reasons behind a sore throat may be beyond the capabilities of pharmacists.
“Proving that a patient with a sore throat has streptococci present is very different from proving that they need treatment, and with antibiotics making no difference at day three to the majority of patients. Community pharmacists are more appropriate for initial care than GPs, but for most cases they should provide self-care advice rather than validate intervention with testing and possible unnecessary treatment.”
And the chair of the GPC clinical and prescribing subcommittee also suggested that it could ultimately result in an increase in the number of prescriptions proffered.
“If this scheme encourages those who would otherwise self-care to attend and be tested, there is a very real risk that the numbers of antibiotic prescriptions will increase rather than decrease, especially if pharmacies receive an item of service payment encouraging intervention.”
Several GPs have also questioned the plans on social media, but it seems that NHS England still intends to push ahead with the initiative.
The scheme will be announced alongside seven other medical innovations that will be introduced to the NHS over the next 12 months.