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Pharmacists extend skills to help deliver more care in the community

Alison sitting at a desk

Community pharmacies are working in more ways than ever to make it easier for people to receive care closer to home.

Independent prescribers can give advice, make referrals and prescribe medication to patients for a number of different ailments.

This can help release pressures from GP practices by assessing appropriate patients without the need for an appointment.

It is a developing service which is not yet available in all community pharmacies, with 18 independent prescribers currently in the Swansea Bay area.

The Welsh Government’s objective is to have an independent prescriber within every community pharmacy in Wales by 2030.

People can visit their local pharmacy to discuss if and when the service is available.

Alison sitting at a desk

Pictured: Alison Sparkes, independent prescriber at The Health Dispensary in Neath.

While appointments aren’t essential, they can ask the local pharmacy about their availability, and might be asked to call back at a more appropriate time.

Consultations are held in a private room and the independent prescriber will discuss symptoms and decide whether it would be best to offer advice only, treatment or make a referral to a GP or other healthcare professional.

Community pharmacists have to complete an accredited course to qualify as an independent prescriber.

Each will have chosen certain ailments or conditions, such as urinary tract infections, to specialise in.

Changes to pharmacists’ education also mean that from 2025 newly qualified pharmacists will leave university as independent prescribers.

Utilising the full range of skills and knowledge of independent prescribers will help enhance access to care and improve patient flow, so easing NHS pressures.

There are national plans in place for community pharmacies to offer even more clinical services in the future.

Sam Page, Head of Primary Care at Swansea Bay University Health Board, said: “Independent prescribers enable patients to be seen within a community pharmacy for prescribed services.

“The pharmacist will take the patient into the consultation room to understand what their concern is.

“If it is within the pharmacist’s area of expertise, they will assess the patient’s suitability for treatment which may include an examination.

“The pharmacist will ask them about their symptoms and can prescribe accordingly.

“This helps to release pressures on GP practices while providing care close to patients’ homes.”

Alison Sparkes is one of Swansea Bay’s independent prescribers, based at The Health Dispensary in Neath.

She said concerns were usually covered by the Common Ailments Service – a free service which provides over-the-counter treatment for 26 everyday conditions.

However, independent prescribers can advise on further ailments and prescribe a wider range of medicines based on their scope of training.

“I think it’s extremely convenient for people as often they don’t have to wait for an appointment,” Alison said.

“Many of them are just glad to be able to talk to someone face-to-face about their health concerns.

“Sometimes all that’s needed is just a reassuring voice to give them some advice in terms of self-care. Other times it could be prescribing medication.”

Alison said community pharmacies and independent prescribers were a huge help when it comes to easing pressures on GP practices.

She added: “I think the independent prescribing service is a massive help to GP practices.

“We are now getting quite a lot of referrals from them, advising people to see their pharmacist first.

“The public are starting to recognise us as their first point of contact for family healthcare and we could soon be viewed as triage in the community for other NHS services.”

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