In a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, we discuss the role that clinical pharmacists could play in primary care.
Primary care in the United Kingdom’s NHS is in crisis. Systematic underfunding, with specific neglect of primary care compared to other clinical specialties, has combined with ever-rising demand and administrative workload to place a now dwindling workforce under unsustainable pressure.
A major factor in the growing workload in primary care is prescribing. An aging population and higher prevalence of chronic diseases is leading to increased case complexity and polypharmacy, and consequently greater potential for prescribing errors. Nearly 5% of all prescriptions in general practices in England have prescribing or monitoring errors, while in some areas up to half of the prescriptions are prone to error. Although most errors are of mild or moderate severity, they can be life-changing for patients and costly for healthcare systems, accounting for around 3.7% of preventable hospital admissions.
Workload and time pressures exacerbate prescribing errors. Concerns about workload and access in primary care have led the UK Government to pledge increases in the general practitioner workforce, but general practitioners take at least 10 years to train and declining numbers of medical graduates internationally suggests a limited pool for recruitment. In this article, we discuss integration of clinical pharmacists in general practices as a potential solution to these problems.
While the pool of general practitioners is limited, the number of pharmacists is increasing. Pharmacists undertake shorter training than general practitioners, with four years undergraduate degree followed by one year of pre-registration experience. While the role of pharmacists has expanded beyond dispensing of medications and now involves provision of several other aspects of patient care, their knowledge and expertise is often under-utilised. Making use of their expertise in medication management, pharmacists could perform a variety of tasks in primary care, improving patient safety and clinical outcomes through optimised medication use, and potentially alleviating workload, freeing up general practitioners to deal with more complex cases and reducing waiting times for appointments.
Pharmacists have been working in primary care teams for some time in non-patient-facing roles. Areas in which they support practices include auditing for performance targets, implementation of enhanced services, preparation for inspections by the Care Quality Commission, training staff in repeat prescribing and providing medicines information for other clinicians. However, these roles currently vary from practice to practice. The widespread integration of pharmacists in both patient-facing and non-patient-facing roles therefore has the potential to have impact in three key areas: safety of prescribing; improved health outcomes; and access to primary care through reduction of general practitioner workload