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02-19-2008, 06:29 PM
People with long-term chronic illnesses may be seen by a pharmacist instead of a GP in years to come.

People wanting help with lifestyle changes including giving up smoking, or who suffer from long-term health conditions, or who want health advice could find themselves being seen by a pharmacist trained to prescribe medicines.

The idea is being piloted in parts of Hampshire but pharmacists are aware they have to win the hearts and minds of both GPs and patients if they are to develop a bigger role.

University of Portsmouth lecturer and pharmacist Stephen Inns is currently one of just two doctor-funded pharmacists in Hampshire trained to prescribe drugs. He is among the UK's first cohort of independent prescribing pharmacists. He works alongside GPs in a cardiovascular clinic for two sessions a week and the other two days teaches tomorrow' s pharmacists.

He said: ' We are building bridges with primary care trusts ' and GPs in particular ' to open up the way pharmacists can take on a greater role in health care.

' If you say ' pharmacist' to most people they think of the chemist shop on the high street. What most people don' t know is pharmacists are extremely knowledgeable about medicines and many GPs ask pharmacists for advice about new medicines or the ways medicines interact with each other.

' We also have training in patient care and many of our students studying pharmacy want to be able to fully use their extensive knowledge about medicines to help patients.'

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At the moment about 60 percent of a GP' s time is spent reviewing patients with long-term chronic illnesses, according to Mr Inns. But with additional training pharmacists could take on the management of patient-care for such people, freeing GPs to spend more time diagnosing illnesses and treating more complex cases.

Training to provide this greater clinical role for pharmacists is currently being provided for postgraduate students at the University of Portsmouth by Dr Jane Portlock, principal lecturer in pharmacy practice.

One of Mr Inns' s students, Shahik Mulla, is conducting a study which will give GPs, primary care trusts and the university a greater insight into what the future holds for patients and for those working in or for the NHS.

Shahik is in his fourth year studying pharmacy and is researching GPs' understanding of the skills of pharmacists and what they think about working more closely with pharmacists in the future.

He is shadowing pharmacists to get a better understanding of their current responsibilities ' some are already responsible for medication and repeat prescription reviews in GP surgeries and for medicine management in nursing homes and training health care staff on medication updates.

The results of Shahik' s study could have direct influence over hundreds of GP surgeries.

Shahik said: ' If GPs can be persuaded to hand over some patient care to pharmacists this will reduce GPs' workload substantially. Pharmacists are not just for checking prescriptions; we can do a lot more ' we have both clinical and patient contact skills.'

The study is Shahik' s final year project and includes sending an in-depth questionnaire to 250 GPs as well as those who ' buy' healthcare for primary care trusts and GP surgery practice managers. The report on the results will be available by June.

University of Portsmouth (http://www.port.ac.uk/)