Treatment of patients with long term illnesses like Parkinson's and heart disease will soon be handled by pharmacists according to yesterday's announcement.
Proposals have been made to train some ''expert chemists" in order to take over the assessment of patients' medical conditions and management of their drugs, from GPs.
AdvertisementBesides this some will also hold their own specialist clinics for patients with life-threatening conditions like diabetes and asthma.
These reforms are a part of key NHS plans which will move more patient care into the community and so that the burden on overcrowded GP surgeries and hospitals is eased.
However doctors and patient groups warned that the move could switch care away from expert care and could spell worse healthcare for patients.
In addition they warned that confusion among patients as to whether they should visit their GP or pharmacist was also bound to come forth.
As per the new reforms, patients would still go to their GP for diagnosis but could then be referred to a high-street chemist for regular follow-up treatment and advice.
In addition some pharmacists will also be offered further training to in conditions like skin disorders and sexually-transmitted infections, as well as the management of drugs that prevent strokes and heart disease.
They would have separate rooms to carry out simple examinations and blood tests needed to make prescriptions.
Patient groups fear that although expert doctors would still be making the major decisions and diagnoses, pharmacists might step into this territory as well. Joyce Robins, co-director of the campaign group Patient Concern said: "There are dangers in going down this kind of way. It is trying to do things on the cheap, like a lot of things on the health service."
"We are very, very cautious about this and can't really see how this is going to work.
"Most pharmacists don't even have a quiet space to talk to patients about even minor complaints, so where are they going to find the facilities to examine and talk to patients with serious complaints in a shop full of people?" The earlier plan to allow nurses and some pharmacists to prescribe a wide range of drugs as part of a Government bid to speed up patient treatment has been shelved following the British Medical Association branding that move as ''irresponsible and dangerous'' saying it could put patients at risk.
Chairman James Johnson said that it was difficult to see how health workers who were not trained to diagnose disease could safely prescribe the appropriate treatment compared to fully-trained doctors.
Referring to the new role of pharmacists, Dr Richard Vautrey of the BMA's GPs Committee said yesterday: "We welcome any additional services that patients can access but we must avoid patients getting confused about where they should go for expert help.
"We need to make sure there is very clear communication between these new expert pharmacists and the patients' GPs so that they know of the advice that has been given and that the care that is provided for individual patients is coordinated properly."
According to Health Minister Andy Burnham, the new chemists will be able to offer help "on patients' doorsteps". He told the British Pharmaceutical Conference in Manchester: "New and extended roles for experienced staff are a key part of our NHS reforms.
"Pharmacists with Special Interests will give patients more choice about where, when and from who they seek healthcare advice and treatment for things such as sexually transmitted infections, substance misuse and diabetes, or heart attack and stroke prevention through monitoring anticoagulation medicines."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said that the move was designed to ease the pressure on GPs and give patients an extra option for seeking treatment - rather than replacing their local doctor.
She added: "Those patients who need or choose to see their GP will still be able to do so."
As for the pharmacists, they would provide a separate area or room to deal with patients and carry out procedures such as taking their blood pressure and that primary care trusts would be responsible for ensuring that pharmacists provided a 'suitable environment' for providing patient care. She said, "The pharmacists will only be working with patients with conditions that they are trained to treat. If they have a patient with a condition they are not trained to deal with, they will always refer them to the relevant clinician, whether it be their GP or by sending them to A and E."
Hemant Patel, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain said yesterday: "Pharmacists are going to be helping people with long-term illnesses like diabetes and asthma to cope with their treatment outside hospital. It will mean that more people can enjoy a better quality of life in their own home."