GPs voice concern at scheme to let pharmacists treat patients
GPs have expressed concern about the potential risks of a new scheme which will allow medical card patients to bypass their doctor and receive drugs and treatment from pharmacists for minor illnesses.
The scheme, beginning on June 1, will mean medical card holders can be treated by their pharmacist for dry eye, dry skin, scabies, threadworms and thrush.
A spokeswoman for the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU), which is holding its annual conference today, said currently medical card holders with these conditions must attend their GP and obtain a prescription for a treatment, even when it is a non-prescription medication.
"All available evidence supports the implementation of pharmacy-based treatment of minor ailments," she insisted. "Where appropriate, the patient will be referred to their GP."
However, Dr Mark Murphy, spokesman for the Irish College of General Practitioners, said doctors were concerned that some patients may be under-diagnosed.
GPs, unlike pharmacists, had the expertise of taking a medical history to ensure that serious illness in most cases was not overlooked, he insisted.
"This is not the solution to under-resourced general practice or hospital overcrowding.
"It ignores there may be market factors compelling pharmacists to suggest this pilot as pharmacists look to enhance their role after years of similar austerity measures to those which have created a crisis in general practice. Pharmacists will receive a per prescription fee for medications dispensed."
It also "removes the separation of prescriber and dispenser roles, representing a shift in Irish health policy", he added.
He welcomed the fact it was first starting on a pilot basis and would be assessed.
An IPU-commissioned survey, released at the annual meeting in Dublin, said six in 10 people say they consult their pharmacist first before deciding whether to attend a GP.