A pilot scheme allowing pharmacists to treat minor ailments has proved a major success despite a slow start, says Kay Smith

Published: 15/08/2002, Volume III, No. 5818 Page 16

The Scottish Executive is looking at the potential for extending the role of pharmacists in treating minor ailments following an evaluation of pilot schemes in Tayside and Ayrshire.

The pilots have operated since April 2001 and cover all general practices and community pharmacies in Arbroath and the near-by village of Froickheim, within Tayside primary care trust, and Patna, within Ayrshire and Arran PCT. Patients exempt from prescription charges must register for the service, which allows pharmacists to diagnose and treat a list of 18 specified ailments.

A study by Manchester University, reported by Peter Noyce, professor of pharmacy practice, found that 'patients liked the fact they did not have to take time off work or school'.

They liked the service's promptness and convenience, which saved both their time and the GP's'.

However, the study found that only 50 per cent of the 1,700 patients who registered actually used the service. Professor Noyce says there is a need for more 'patient awareness and understanding'.

The service was used most heavily for medication for children - 59 per cent of the 1,425 consultations were for children aged 15 or under.Head lice, common pain and coughs were the most common conditions treated.

Professor Noyce suggests that the lower take-up among older people is likely to be due to 'comorbidity' - those with more serious conditions are likely to consult their doctors about minor ailments at the same time.

Tayside PCT plans to roll the scheme out across Angus this October, to Perth and Kinross in April and to Dundee next October. Ayrshire and Arran PCT plans to extend it this autumn.

The first two years of the service have been backed by£300,000 from the Scottish Executive's primary care development fund.

A spokesperson for the Executive says: 'There is now a potential for a nationwide roll-out.'

The evaluation has not been able to measure exactly how many consultations have been transferred from doctors to pharmacists. But Dr Rusty Smith of the Arbroath medical centre feels it has cut workload - 'at least for trivial complaints'.

Dr Ron Walker of Froickheim health centre says: 'One of the main problems with the scheme has been educating the public.

They can't be asked to change their consulting habits overnight.'

However, he is 'optimistic' that direct chemist care is the way ahead. 'Patients should have more than one place to go for their medication, ' he says. l