A scheme which allows pharmacists to treat some minor ailments has reduced GP appointments and the case load at accident and emergency by more than 200,000 in the last year, the health secretary has said.
Humza Yousaf hailed the “fantastic role” pharmacists can play by helping people get the right treatment without having to go to either their family doctor or a hospital.
And he said the scheme could be “particularly helpful” as continuing pressure on the NHS means that the health service “faces one of the most difficult winters in its history”.
The Scottish Government launched the NHS Pharmacy First Scotland service in July 2020, with ministers now considering expanding the scheme.
Under the initiative, pharmacists who are “appropriately qualified” can carry out consultations, referring people on to other parts of the NHS if they believe this is necessary.
The pharmacist can also treat a number of conditions, such as urinary tract infections, shingles and impetigo without the need for a prescription or to see a doctor.
Pharmacists in the network have taken more than 200,000 appointments in the last year which would otherwise have gone to GP surgeries or hospital A&E departments, the Scottish Government said.
More than 1200 community pharmacies are involved in the initiative, with more than two million consultations carried out since its launch.
Speaking about the scheme, Yousaf said: “Community pharmacists are playing a fantastic role in ensuring that millions of people have their minor ailment needs addressed quickly, without needing to go to a GP or hospital.
“They are a prime example of getting the right care in the right place at the right time.
“This is particularly helpful as our NHS faces one of the most difficult winters in its history, with the NHS Pharmacy First service helping to relieve some of the current pressures faced by emergency departments.”
He urged people: “As community pharmacy staff continue to give care and advice during the busy winter period, please continue to be kind and patient.”
The health secretary said: “The Scottish Government introduced the NHS Pharmacy First service, backed by £10m of investment.
“As part of the NHS Recovery Plan, we will look to expand the range of common clinical conditions that can be treated by community pharmacists, avoiding unnecessary GP and out-of-hours appointments.
“We have also committed to establishing a community pharmacy hospital discharge and medicines reconciliation service to help speed up the process for people being discharged from hospital.
“New digital solutions such as ePrescribing and eDispensing will make prescribing paperless and free up capacity for healthcare professionals to see more patients, while making it easier for the public to access their medicines quickly and safely.”