Pharmacists should be able to help treat patients at GP practices across England, according to plans by leading health professionals.
After completing extra training, pharmacists would provide health advice and be able to prescribe medication.
The plans, aimed at every practice in England, have been put forward by the Royal College of General Practice (RCGP) and Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).
It could mean that when patients call up their surgeries they are offered an appointment with a pharmacist, general practitioner or practice nurse. Those who opt to see the pharmacist could get advice about their symptoms and discuss side-effects of medication, as well as getting help with repeat prescriptions.
GP and pharmacist leaders say the move is needed as practices face staff shortages and are struggling to meet the demands of an ageing population.
The RCGP predicts that on some 67 million occasions this year, patients will have to wait more than one week to get an appointment. There is currently an over-supply of skilled pharmacists who could ease this burden, experts argue.
Dr Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the RCGP, said: "Even if we were to get an urgent influx of extra funding and more GPs, we could not turn around the situation overnight due to the length of time it takes to train a GP. Yet we already have a 'hidden army' of highly-trained pharmacists who could provide a solution. This isn't about having a pharmacy premises within a surgery, but about making full use of the pharmacist's clinical skills to help patients and the over-stretched GP workforce."
David Branford of the RPS said: "Pharmacists can consult with and treat patients directly, relieving GPs of casework and enabling them to focus their skills where they are most needed, for example on diagnosing and treating patients with complex conditions.”
These types of partnership already exist in a handful of practices but experts hope the plan will eventually be rolled out across the UK.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: "There is certainly more pharmacists can do to take the pressure off GPs. My worry is that people would be passed over to a pharmacist when in fact they needed to see a doctor. That would need to be very carefully set out in any rules and guidance that is issued."
Read the full news item via the BBC website.