You can’t avoid it; in every newspaper, every day, another story about the NHS under increasing strain from all areas.
Statistics show that GP practices in England are providing care for 1.1 million more patients now than they were two years ago, while another study found that the overall number of GP’s consultations - including face-to-face and telephone appointments - has increased by 15% over the last five years, three times the rate of increase in the number of GPs. Yet another study suggests that upwards of 20% of some GPs sessions are covered by locums.
There is a growing crisis in recruitment and retention - half of GPs who left the profession between 2009 and 2014 were younger than 50, and another 34% of GPs plan to retire in the next five years.
In A&E departments all over the country, the story is the same. Northampton A&E describes itself as under “intense pressure”, and is now seeing 320 patients per day. Chorley A&E has closed because it cannot "recruit enough staff to provide a safe service" - and this is putting yet more pressure on Preston’s A&E department who are braced for a “tidal wave” of extra patients. Royal Blackburn hospital is struggling under pressure. A top doctor in Wales says ‘relentless pressure' on A&E staff is making it impossible for them to deliver high-quality care. I’m sure you can see what I’m getting at here.
As the image below shows, if up to a quarter of pharmacies have to close then 49% of people say that they’d go to their local GP, while another 28% would go to a walk-in clinic or hospital – this is a pressure that the NHS simply cannot handle. One million extra people a month will be forced into their GPs surgeries or A&E departments.
Unless something is done and fast, then the NHS which is already clearly creaking under the strain, will finally crack. I welcome the news that pharmacies in England will once again be able to provide NHS flu vaccinations this winter, but there is much more that we could yet be doing to help.
I have written before about pharmacies taking on more of both minor ailments and routine elements of care for people with long-term conditions; a move that could save the NHS billions of pounds and help relieve the pressure on both GPs and A&E departments.
Diabetes, asthma, allergies, minor burns, sleep disorders, skin conditions, digestive conditions, high cholesterol; all things that can be aided by a pharmacist. On every high street there is a readily available service to aid all of these conditions and you don’t even need to book an appointment.
It’s more important now than ever that we recognise that pharmacy is an important pillar of the NHS, and allow pharmacists up and down the country to take on the management of some of these conditions to help free up the already enormous pressure on our other NHS services.
Instead, the government wishes to chip away at this pillar by closing up to 3000 pharmacies – please, sign the petition and ask MPs to debate these proposed cuts. This battle to save a vital part of our NHS needs your help!