Millions of patients in England are set to benefit from improved access to NHS health services without needing to see a GP under a new plan aimed at relieving the pressure on primary care.
The GP access recovery plan, which could be in place by next winter, will enable patients to get prescription medication directly from a pharmacy for seven common conditions including earache, sore throat and urinary tract infections.
Access to contraception will also be extended, as patients will no longer have to speak to a nurse or GP to get the oral contraceptive pill.
Additionally, pharmacists will be able to provide a wider range of routine tests, including blood pressure checks.
The new blueprint will be funded by a government investment of £645m and is expected to free up around 15 million GP appointments over the next two years.
Ending the ‘8am rush’ for GP appointments is another key part of the plan, with patients either given an appointment immediately when they call, or redirected to a more appropriate service such as NHS 111 or their local pharmacy.
During trials, this has increased patients’ ability to get through to their practice by almost a third.
Extra training will be provided to GP staff answering calls, so that patients who need to see their family doctor are prioritised and those who would be better seen by other staff such as physiotherapists are able to bypass their GP.
Patients will also be able to self-refer for key services, including physiotherapy, hearing tests and podiatry, without seeing their GP first.
The move comes as GP teams are already treating record numbers, with half a million more appointments delivered every week compared to pre-pandemic levels.
NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said: “GPs and their teams are working incredibly hard to deal with unprecedented demand for appointments. But with an ageing population, we know we need to further expand and transform the way we provide care for our local communities and make these services fit for the future.
“Today, we are setting out an ambitious package of measures to do just that – with pharmacies playing a central role in managing the nation’s health including providing lifesaving checks and medication for common conditions for the first time.”