Private GPs warn patients about Sunak’s “Pharmacy First” scheme

Two Merseyside GPs are warning patients to think carefully before starting antibiotics prescribed by pharmacists. When Knowsley MP Sir George Howarth asked the Prime Minister 3 weeks ago if he supported NHS England’s “Pharmacy First” scheme, Sunak agreed that pharmacists “can do more for us over time“.

Formby GP’s Dr John Cosgrove and Dr Heather Ryan welcome the government’s latest idea for taking pressure off NHS GPs. In many areas, including Southport and Formby, chemists have been able to prescribe medication for common conditions. Since April, community pharmacists in Merseyside and elsewhere have been able to repeat prescriptions of the contraceptive pill.

“Pharmacy First” goes a step further, and promises to begin rolling out to pharmacies nationwide by the end of 2023 the ability to prescribe antibiotics for sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections.

Dr Cosgrove, who has been a GP for 20 years, agreed that impetigo, shingles and urinary tract infections should be easy for pharmacists to diagnose and prescribe appropriately so long as they follow guidance from Public Health England.

Dr Ryan pointed out that sinusitis, sore throat, and earache usually get better without treatment. She warned that antibiotics taken for these conditions can cause more harm than good. “Furthermore, insect bites often flare up badly for a few days, people fear they are infected, but they clear up all by themselves. It can be difficult to tell whether an insect bite is infected and needs antibiotics.”

Common side effects of antibiotics include diarrhoea, vomiting, rashes, suspected allergic reactions, and thrush. Dr Cosgrove warns that patients are more likely to have side effects than to benefit from antibiotics prescribed under Sunak’s plan.

“We also know that if people are prescribed antibiotics unnecessarily for such illnesses, they will – quite understandably – come back sooner next time for the same unnecessary treatment again. There is a real risk that Sunak is opening the taxpayer up here for a totally unnecessary blank cheque.”

The two private doctors, encourage anyone concerned about taking antibiotics prescribed by their pharmacist to consult their GP. Dr Ryan explained, “experienced GPs are second-to-none at advising whether an illness is likely to settle on its own, and what to do if it doesn’t. It’s what we do!”

Dr Cosgrove added: “when working as an NHS GP, I am painfully aware that many patients believe that I withhold tests, treatments and referrals to save me money. This is laughably untrue! So much so, that Heather and I decided to set up Formby GP. In private practice, there genuinely is a temptation to test and treat more so as to generate fees and encourage repeat business. To head this off, we are crystal clear that Formby GP will be ‘ethical’: we will only recommend tests, treatments and referrals if they are appropriate.”


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