A new NHS service offering same-day local pharmacy appointments to anyone calling NHS 111 about minor conditions could help to relieve pressures on GPs.
If testing is successful, GPs and A&E will start to refer patients to the service over the next five years.
Patients will continue to have the option to see their GP or attend A&E if they want to.
It is estimated that up to 6% of all GP consultations could be safely transferred to a community pharmacy, equating to 20 million GP appointments a year.
The new service is part of a list of services being announced as part of the new five-year Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework, which will take effect from October.
The framework focuses on prevention, urgent care and medicines safety to help more people stay well in their community.
Areas the framework will expand over the next five years include developing and testing an early detection service to help identify people who may have undiagnosed cardiovascular disease; checking all patients with diabetes to ensure they have had their annual foot and eye check; ensuring pharmacists receive the latest guidance on how to assist anyone with dementia; and running the Healthy Living Pharmacy scheme to all pharmacies in England to help people lose weight or stop smoking.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said he wants to move towards the French model where pharmacists 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,” he added.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, introducing a greater variety of roles into the general practice team and making the best possible use of primary care professionals in the community is key to helping relieve the intense resource and workforce pressures facing GPs.
However, she said the new service is not a silver bullet to addressing the pressures in primary care.
“Pharmacists – or any other primary care professional – must not be seen as substitutes for GPs, so efforts to recruit more family doctors, retain the existing GP workforce, and make it easier to return to practice after a career break or period working abroad must continue and be redoubled,” she argued.