How much GP time do pharmacists free?

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A new study published in the British Journal of General Practice has examined how providing additional pharmacist prescribing resources can free up GP capacity and time

The study, Releasing GP capacity with pharmacy prescribing support and New Ways of Working: a prospective observational cohort study, set out to see what impact prescribing support teams could have.

The prospective observational study took place in 16 urban general practices in Scotland.

For two weeks before the study, GPs recorded the time they spent dealing with special requests, immediate discharges, outpatient requests and other prescribing issues.

During the study, specialist clinical pharmacists performed these prescribing activities, and the GPs again recorded the time they spent on them for two equivalent periods.

The GPs and practice staff were surveyed to assess their expectations at baseline, as well as their experiences during the data collection period at the end; prescribing support staff were also surveyed during the intervention.

The study found that the pharmacists were able to reduce GP time on these activities by 51%.

“GP time spent on key prescribing activities significantly reduced by 51% (79 hours, P<0.001) per week, equating to 4.9 hours (95% confidence interval = 3.4 to 6.4) per week per practice,” the authors wrote.

“The additional clinical pharmacist resource was well received and appreciated by GPs and practices. As well as freeing up GP capacity, practices and practitioners also identified improvements in patient safety, positive effects on staff morale, and reductions in stress.

“Prescribing support staff also indicated that the initiative had a positive impact on job satisfaction and was considered sustainable, although practice expectations and time constraints created new challenges.”

The authors concluded that specialist clinical pharmacists are both safe and effective in supporting GPs and their practices with the prescribing activities which they took over in this study,

However, they warn that further work is necessary to examine how such pharmacists could impact prescribing cost efficiency and clinical pharmacist medication review work.

The study took place against a GP workforce in crisis, the authors wrote.

It follows another recent UK study which saw more than 490 pharmacists placed in GP practices, at the end of which most GPs wanted to keep their pharmacist.

Ultimately it is expected that more than 2000 clinical pharmacists will be working in UK general practice by 2020/21.

In Australia, debate continues around the concept, with the pharmacists’ union suggesting that better conditions could be on offer for these pharmacists… but other stakeholders aren’t convinced, and fear duplication of roles and the creation of a silo effect.

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