Pressure on GP practices could be eased by stationing pharmacists in surgeries to resolve day-to-day medicine issues, health experts have suggested.
The move would cut the times patients have to wait for appointments and also address a current oversupply of pharmacists, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) said.
GPs and their teams are predicted to make 370 million patient consultations this year - 70 million more than five years ago - due to an ageing population and more patients being treated for long-term and complex conditions.
According to RCGP research, there will be 67 million occasions when patients will have to wait a week or more to see a GP or practice nurse this year.
During this time the number of GPs has remained relatively level.
The RCGP, which is being backed by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), argues that as clinicians who have trained for five years - one year less than a doctor and one year more than a nurse - pharmacists would be ideally placed to treat patients directly at the surgery.
Many GP surgeries already work closely with pharmacists and the proposals would see them working as part of the general team in a similar way to practice nurses.
Pharmacists would resolve day-to-day medicine issues, particularly for patients with long-term conditions such as asthma or diabetes, and are taking a number of different medications. They would also liaise with hospitals, community pharmacists and care homes to ensure seamless care for patients.
The RCGP is calling for general practice funding to be increased to 11% of the NHS budget by 2017 - it is currently just over 8% - and for 8,000 more GPs in England by the end of the next parliament.
RCGP chairwoman Maureen Baker said: "Waiting times for a GP appointment are now a national talking point - and a national cause for concern, not least amongst GPs themselves.
"But, 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.
"Practice-based pharmacists, working as part of the clinical team, would relieve the pressure on GPs and make a huge difference to patient care.
"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 overstretched GP workforce."
David Branford, chairman of the RPS English board, said: "General practice is the foundation of the NHS but it needs proper resourcing and support. Having a pharmacist as part of the team can make a huge difference to both patients and clinical colleagues.
"Pharmacists should be working in GP practices all over the country. It's a win-win situation for everyone concerned.
"We must be more strategic and change the services on offer to make best use of the NHS workforce. Patients deserve access to high quality care and services wherever they live and pharmacists are central to providing this."
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA GP committee chairman, said: "Placing more pharmacists into GP practice teams is a move the BMA has been advocating for some time.
"This proposal has the potential to improve the skills mix in local GP services and raise the number of healthcare professionals on hand to provide help to patients. This will be a welcome step forward,given that GP practices are currently under unprecedented strain from rising patient demand and falling resources.
"The implementation of this programme will be key. For it to work properly, there will need to be additional resources to enable enough pharmacists to be placed in GP surgeries.
"A further limiting factor at present is that many GP practices are struggling because their buildings are inadequate or don't have space to expand staffing."