Ulster pharmacists could lift the burden of thousands of consultations from GPs every month if they were given greater powers to use their clinical skills, a leading Scottish pharmacist has claimed.
Professor Bill Scott, the Scottish Government's chief pharmaceutical officer, said pharmacists are better placed than family doctors to help manage chronic disease, educate patients on drug therapies and deal with minor ailments.
Referring to his own country, he said that using the clinical skills of pharmacists on the high street had the potential to "see a reduction in 70,000 GP consultations per month" and "a burden could be lifted off the over- stretched GP service".
New pharmacist contracts are currently being phased-in in Scotland, rewarding them for placing greater emphasis on public health and dealing with minor ailments.
Since phasing-in began, there have been 70,000 consultations with pharmacists per month and Prof Scott argues this has potentially taken the same number of consultations away from GPs.
Addressing newly registered pharmacists at Queen's University recently, he said: "Pharmacists, as professionals, have a high visibility with the public and interact daily with patients.
"Now is an exciting time to be entering the pharmacy profession. As Governments seek to move the balance of care from secondary and tertiary care to primary care, pharmacists are well-placed to play a major role."
Highlighting current developments in Scotland, Prof Scott said: "The unique Scottish model for pharmacy prescribing and service delivery will be one of the most advanced in Europe and we, in Scotland, are very proud of the advances we are making."
The professor - who is chief pharmaceutical advisor to Scottish ministers, the Scottish Executive and NHS in Scotland - called for a change in the traditional system of paying pharmacists to dispense drugs.
"Pharmacy is in need of an integrated vision, where Government, pharmacy and other stakeholders work together to improve citizens' health," he said.
Professor Scott was sharing his thoughts with 165 new pharmacists joining the Register of Pharmaceutical Chemists at a ceremony in Queen's.
Each was presented with their certificate of registration by president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland, Raymond Anderson.
He said: "Current developments in the profession in Northern Ireland will enable pharmacists to play a greater role in the clinical management of patients."