How community pharmacies in Wales are helping free up 180,000 GP appointments

The Sore Throat Test and Treat Service (STTT) in Wales is providing patients with fast and effective treatment for sore throats, as well as freeing up GPs’ time to focus on patients with more complex health needs. Umar Hussain, pharmacist at Lloyds Pharmacy, Port Talbot Resource Centre, talks about his experience of the service so far.

There has never been a more exciting time to work in community pharmacy. Our role as pharmacists is changing and the part we play within the primary care sector is rapidly evolving. We’re being recognised for the expert advice and services we can offer. We’re also being given more opportunities to be patient facing. This includes utilising our clinical skills in assessing, diagnosing, and treating minor illnesses and common ailments, such as sore throats.

In many cases, a sore throat is caused by a viral infection, rather than a bacterial one. The new STTT service, funded by NHS Wales, allows patients to be treated for their sore throat in a local pharmacy. Not only does the scheme aim to free up GP appointments, it is also designed to reduce unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics.

Due to the current pressures faced by wider NHS services, the STTT offers patients an alternative way of accessing the care they need that’s both quick and convenient. They don’t have to wait to see their GP. Instead, they can visit their community pharmacy without an appointment and speak to a pharmacist.

During the patient consultation, a combination of effective questioning and a swab test are used to diagnose whether the patient has a bacterial infection. If the swab test is positive, antibiotics will be offered. However, since conducting the service I have found that approximately 70% of sore throats have tested negative for bacterial infections. In these instances, I’ve been able to recommend over the counter medicines to help improve their symptoms. This means that less antibiotics have been inappropriately prescribed.

We’ve seen over 150 patients within 3 weeks of launching the service. Initially, patients were primarily being referred through GP surgeries. Now, we are receiving referrals from A&E departments and Out of Hours services, as well as other patients who have used the service and have then recommended it to their family and friends. It was reported that 94% of patients surveyed in the initial pilot said they would have sought an appointment with a GP had the service not been available.

Based on the results of the survey, our pharmacy alone has assisted in freeing up nearly 25 hours of doctors’ time, based on a routine 10 minute GP appointment. It’s thought that sore throat complaints account for 180,000 GP appointments a year in Wales. Together, the pharmacies currently delivering this service are helping patients to make pharmacy their first port of call and give GPs more time to focus on patients with more complex health needs.

So far, the STTT has been extremely well received in the 20 pharmacies we currently have delivering it. Most patients have said they would now choose to come back to us directly next time they were experiencing a sore throat. The success of this service demonstrates how changing the perception of patients and educating them about where best to go for help can free up time for other frontline services. It also proves that community pharmacy can do even more to help the NHS tackle the challenges it’s facing. I’m excited to see what other services pharmacists can deliver in the future to help patients manage their health better.

Sources

  • Community pharmacies in Wales are helping free up 180,000 GP appointments:

https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/people-sore-throats-able-antibiotics-17249487

  • 94% of patients surveyed in the initial pilot said they would have sought an appointment with a GP had the service not been available:

http://pembrokeshire-herald.com/57754/milford-haven-appeal-for-information-after-museum-windows-smashed/