Treating common illnesses at pharmacies 'could save NHS £1bn'
Treating common ailments like coughs and colds at community pharmacies could save the NHS over £1bn a year, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society claims.
A study carried out by the body concluded such a move would reduce the number of accident and emergency visits by 650,000 and GP consultations by 18m.
While minor ailment centres are common in Scotland and Northern Ireland only a third of English pharmacies have them.
The RPS is now calling for them to be rolled out across England.
They said the clinics - which could also deal with eye problems, stomach ailments like diarrhoea, and aches and pains - could ease the pressure on an overburdened NHS as well as save money.
Treatment results were the same regardless of whether patients were treated at a pharmacy, GP practice or in A&E, according to the study.
RPS President Ash Soni said: "The NHS can't afford to wait any longer to create capacity in the system. We need to be more strategic and change the services on offer to the public to make best use of the NHS workforce.
"Pharmacists are central to relieving the ever-increasing demand on A&E and GPs and enabling them to focus their skills on diagnosing and treating patients needing their care.
"Fast, same-day access to community pharmacists will be of huge benefit to patients, doctors, nurses and the bank balance of the NHS."
The RPS claims treating common conditions at A&E or in a GP practice costs the NHS an extra £1.1bn each year.
The research, led by the University of Aberdeen, estimated that 3% of all A&E consultations and 5.5% of GP consultations for common illnesses could be dealt with in local pharmacies.
Lead researcher Dr Margaret Watson said: "Treating these common problems places a substantial burden on A&E and GP services, especially over the winter period.
"This can increase waiting times, reduce availability of care for more serious conditions and incurs much greater expenditure on treatment than necessary.
"We must make the best use of NHS resources and give people the right advice in the right place, whilst making the most of the skills of NHS staff. You don't need an A&E consultation to treat a short-term cough or a simple upset stomach."
Common ailment schemes operate nationally in community pharmacies in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Welsh Government is running trials of the service which will be evaluated in 2015 and aims to develop a cost-effective model for the management of common ailments for Wales.
In England, approximately one-third of pharmacies operate the scheme.