We can help save the NHS, Boots boss says: Pharmacies want green light to prescribe drugs and offer vital services to help reduce waiting list
- Seb James wants those suffering from minor ailments to visit their local pharmacy.
- Boots is the UK’s largest pharmacy chain, with over 2,200 stores.
- The bosses said the group could be ready to provide support ‘within a few weeks’
Plea: Boots boss Seb James says NHS could save £2bn a year
The boss of pharmaceutical giant Boots has vowed to reduce waiting times for doctors’ surgeries and “help solve the NHS crisis” if he is given the green light to provide more services.
Chief executive Seb James wants his pharmacists to be able to prescribe drugs paid for by the NHS that are currently only available to patients through a GP or doctor.
He also wants the health service to step up efforts to encourage people suffering from minor ailments such as sore throats, athlete’s foot and earaches to visit their local pharmacy before going to the health service.
Boots is the UK’s largest pharmacy chain, with over 2,200 stores. Bosses told The Mail on Sunday that the group could be ready to provide support ‘within a few weeks’.
The NHS is under great pressure this winter with more than 7.2 million patients awaiting hospital treatment.
James said more support from pharmacies could take the pressure off surgeries on GPs and hospitals, where emergency services can be overwhelmed by people with relatively minor ailments who have no other access to treatment.
Pharmacies in England are currently unable to write free NHS prescriptions, in contrast to those in Scotland and Wales.
The Department of Health is considering proposals that would allow street pharmacists a greater role in treating basic diseases.
It could allow the NHS to pay pharmacies to provide consultations and treatments, prescribe medicines including antibiotics, and refer patients to a GP. The proposed service has been called Pharmacy First.
James said Britain has 11,000 pharmacists, all highly-skilled medical professionals, who are currently being underutilized.
“We could help solve the NHS crisis,” he said. “We could make a big dent in GP waiting times. And we could make a big dent in waiting times for chronic care.’
He said pharmacists could also help get many hospital patients out sooner.
Underused: James says UK pharmacists could help solve NHS crisis
Botas and other pharmacy chains are in talks with Ministers. The companies argue that the potential plans could put the NHS on a much more sustainable footing and provide “significant savings”.
James believes the proposals could save the health service almost £2bn every year. “We have to recognize that something has to change,” he said.
A number of hospital trusts and ambulance services have recently declared critical incidents as they struggle to deal with the mix of backlogs and rising flu and covid cases. Some health chiefs have claimed that the delays are causing an excess of around 500 deaths a week.
Community pharmacies ‘on the brink of collapse’
James’ plea comes as parts of England’s community pharmacy network are said to be on the brink of collapse.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiation Committee, which includes large chain and independent pharmacists, says state funding has been cut by 30 percent in the past seven years and “is now leading to a serious degradation of services for patients.” .
He has called for greater investment in the sector and the reversal of funding cuts.
All qualified pharmacists in England can prescribe medicines, but the NHS will not subsidize the cost to patients. In Wales and Scotland, however, pharmacists are commissioned by the NHS to prescribe medicines.
Marc Donovan, director of healthcare development at Boots, said this had had “a real impact” in relieving pressure on local Welsh and Scottish NHS systems.
“It’s pretty simple and could be implemented in a matter of weeks,” Donovan said. “The whole health system is under pressure and there is a more efficient way to handle minor ailments in particular.”
Boots believes that a policy change in England would reduce the need for 47 million doctor’s appointments each year.
Figures from the scheme in Wales show it led to an 18 per cent reduction in the workload of GPs and an 8 per cent drop in emergency room visits for minor ailments.
James added: ‘In Scotland and Wales it’s working and incredibly useful. We do not understand why it is not ordered in England.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Pharmacies already provide a range of clinical services and over the next 18 months we will increase the support that pharmacists, who are qualified medical healthcare professionals, can provide.”