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GP support is ‘essential’ for success of minor ailments scheme

20 May 2016

While the benefits of a minor ailments scheme (MAS) to pharmacies and patients are clear, the benefits to GPs who are independent contractors remain unclear, but the scheme will need their support if it is to succeed.

This was one of the main findings of a new Health Research Board (HRB) review, which was commissioned by the Department of Health (DoH), on the nature of an MAS delivery by pharmacists — to which the IMO and the ICGP have expressed their opposition — including the costs and benefits of the scheme for four key stakeholders: patients, pharmacists, GPs and the rest of the health system.

Its publication comes before a pilot of the scheme is launched in Ireland by the Irish Pharmacy Union, to allow its members to treat customers directly, thus obviating the necessity to visit a doctor.

The review also comes amid reports of a radical plan that would see doctors dispense medicines directly to patients proposed by the NAGP, which has already secured legal advice on cutting pharmacists out of the supply chain for a selection of common drugs.

Convenience, access and timeliness for the patient may be considered the principal driving forces in making the choice to attend a pharmacy rather than a general practice, stated the HRB review, which considered similar schemes in Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

Entitled ‘Minor ailments schemes: an overview of experience up to 2015’, it stated that if the patient made this choice in the first instance, and if the outcome was perceived as a success, “their confidence in the pharmacist will grow”.

“The potential benefits for pharmacists of participating in an MAS are clear. They get more business through their doors and the profession can enhance its status by moving into territory hitherto occupied by GPs.

“It would be clearly in doctors’ interest to divert minor cases away from the GP practice if there was no perceived financial penalty for doing so,” the report added, pointing out that in Canada, financial incentives had been put in place to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and physicians were paid a schedule of fees for phone or e-mail consultations initiated by the pharmacist.

“It is essential that GPs are involved, and provide a good level of cooperation with the scheme from the outset,” stated the review.

Lloyd Mudiwa

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Irish Medical Times