Medical negligence

Prescription medication without GP appointment

Matt Brown, Litigation Nurse in our Medical Negligence team, examines the proposed primary care reforms, what this could mean for healthcare and how those in different areas of the UK may be impacted.

02 June 2023

GP shortage

The NHS has lost the equivalent of 2,059 full-time, fully qualified GPs since 2015. That is what the British Medical Association are saying based on figures from the NHS Digital General Practice Workforce Statistics. This has made it harder for the general public to make an appointment to see their GP because there simply aren’t enough to service our growing population.

The all too common 8am telephone queue is a familiar complaint among those desperately trying to seek medical attention, usually resulting in a failed attempt and attending a packed Urgent Care Centre or overrun Emergency Department.

Government pledge

In 2019, Boris Johnson pledged to hire 6,000 new GPs by 2024, however, current PM Rishi Sunak has admitted the government is “not there yet”, stating “we’ve got 2,000 more doctors…” and “we’ve got 25,000 more other people working in primary care.” This could be why the government has proposed primary care reforms which would see millions of people in England receive a diagnosis and treatment from a pharmacist, rather than a GP.

Treatment for seven common conditions ranging from infections to female contraception are set to fall under the new proposals aimed at reducing the burden on GPs and free up more appointments over the next two years. As well as the ability to self-refer for services such as podiatry, physiotherapy, and hearing tests. Though on paper this seems like a good idea, there are concerns this new service will be misused, or worse, cause more problems than solutions.

Concerns and considerations

Pharmacists would be responsible for prescribing medication for ‘less serious conditions’, however this would rely on patient’s knowing how serious their condition is. This could leave room for error, misdiagnosis, and a delay in the provision of more specialist treatment and referral. Some of the conditions that would fall under this reform would require antibiotics.

There is strict guidance for antibiotic prescriptions due to the growing number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Other common ailments are caused by viruses which are usually treated by allowing to run their course and which antibiotics would have no effect upon. Whilst pharmacists are one of the professionals at the forefront of these prescription guidelines, there is concern that they are being turned to as ‘pill-dispensers’.

Others have concerns that the proposals don’t address the underlying issues of recruitment and retention that urgently need addressing to keep GPs within the NHS. It is thought that many pharmacies would be unable to offer these new services thus patients would not benefit and still have to wait for a GP appointment regardless. There is no doubt that being told to start from square one would upset and frustrate many people. Of course, there will be pharmacies that could offer these services, but they might not be your local one.

Healthcare inequality

Healthcare ‘postcode lottery’ has been recognised for many years. Areas of England have a higher rate of amputations, for example, due to a range of socio-economic factors. It’s a trend recognised in clinical literature and these reforms could certainly exacerbate the existing inequalities in healthcare provision across England.

Recently, centralisation of specialist services across many NHS trusts has been out of financial necessity. These new proposals will be backed by £635m over the next two years, planned to be implemented this winter.

Accessing healthcare faster is the main priority and for many conditions, is critical to the outcome. This ambitious package is welcomed as a step in the right direction to achieving faster and greater access to healthcare. A lasting change from the COVID-19 pandemic was telephone and video call consultations which has achieved the same.

It’s thought that these new proposals will free up staff so they can spend more time with patients. Currently, the proposals are under consultation with the ‘struggling’ healthcare industry and as to whether all pharmacies will be able to adapt, only time will tell. Many believe this is simply a short-term solution and over the long-term, primary care needs as much investment and priority as reducing hospital backlogs.

How we can help

The increasing difficulty to secure GP and hospital appointments could cause a rise in delays of diagnosis and treatments. We’ve supported thousands of those who’s conditions have been worsened due to medical negligence. Alongside specialist clinical negligence solicitors, our team includes trained nurses and midwives who provide us with the expert industry knowledge required to support your case.

Even if you’re unsure of whether you have a claim, our solicitors are on hand to assess your individual circumstances and advise your next steps. Get in touch with us today on 0330 041 5869 or contact us here.

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