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Patients with minor health issues will be offered same-day appointments at their local pharmacy, the Department of Health and Social Care has announced.

From October 2019, the new service will offer same-day local pharmacy appointments to anyone calling NHS 111 about minor conditions such as an earache or a sore throat.

If the new scheme is successful, GPs and A&E will also start to refer patients to the service over the next 5 years. Patients will continue to have the option to see their GP or attend A&E if they prefer.

The government has estimated that up to 6% of all GP consultations could be safely transferred to a community pharmacy. This equals up to 20 million GP appointments per year.

Over the next five years, online training will be required for all pharmacists to spot the early signs of sepsis. Pharmacists will also help develop and test an early detection service to help identify people who may have undiagnosed cardiovascular disease, people who are at risk of suicide, and assist in checking that all patients with diabetes who come to the pharmacy have had their annual foot and eye check.

Announcing the plan, health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, said:

“Pharmacists are integral to community health and I want to move towards the French model, where they offer a wider range of services and play a stronger role in the community.

“Every day more than a million people use our community pharmacies in England, and we want to support our incredible pharmacists to unlock their full potential, helping them offer more health advice and support more patients as part of our Long-Term Plan for the NHS.

“Community pharmacies are a vital and trusted part of our NHS, and this five-year deal will ensure more people get support in the most appropriate setting, which in turn helps relieve pressure on the wider health service.”

Dr Keith Ridge, NHS chief pharmaceutical officer, said: “This deal provides the accessible and convenient healthcare that the public really want.”

But Joyce Robins, from Patient Concern, said: “It seems like a terrible idea. I can see the need to reduce pressures on GPs given how hard it can be to see one, but it is worrying to have reception staff taking such important decisions.”

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