Pharmacists are calling for the introduction of a Minor Ailment Scheme for medical card holders, which they insist will provide ‘more timely access to appropriate healthcare at no extra cost to the State'.
The call came from the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) in its pre-Budget submission.
The union pointed out that currently, medical card holders must attend their GP to obtain a prescription to treat even common complaints such as a headache or heartburn. This is the case even if they do not require a prescription medication for their ailment.
"The primary aim of a pharmacy-based Minor Ailment Scheme is that medical card holders can receive treatment for minor ailments from their local pharmacy on their medical card without the need to visit their GP," the IPU noted.
It said that an estimated 18% of a GP's workload is spent dealing with minor ailments and a study by the UK Pharmacy Practice Research Trust found that over 90% of patients reported a complete resolution of their symptoms after having a Minor Ailment Scheme consultation with a pharmacist.
According to IPU president, Kathy Maher, with the Government still planning to roll out free GP care for everyone, ‘one of the greatest challenges' facing the health service ‘is the shortage of general practitioners'.
"It has been estimated that the policy could lead to 750,000 extra GP consultations per year, at a time when we reportedly face a GP manpower crisis. GP time is a scarce and valuable resource and by allowing patients to access appropriate treatments for minor medical conditions directly from their pharmacist, we would free up GPs to treat patients with more complex conditions," Ms Maher insisted.
Ailments that could be treated include constipation, mild eczema, athlete's foot, cold sores, fungal nail infections, acute diarrhoea, headache, heartburn, hay fever and thrush.
"Minor Ailment Schemes have proven successful in other countries, including Northern Ireland and Scotland. We are calling on the Government to replicate such a scheme in Ireland. This would be a move to deliver on a more integrated healthcare model in line with the Government's own Healthy Ireland framework," Ms Maher added.