Pharmacies 'in unique position'
The vast majority of people in England live within a 20 minute walk of their local GP, but even more live close to a pharmacy, putting them in a "unique position to deliver healthcare interventions", a study has suggested.
Researchers at Durham University found that overall, 84.8% of the population is estimated to live within a mile (1.6 km) of a GP premises.
This was broken down to 81.2% in the most affluent areas, 98.2% in the most deprived areas, 94.2% in urban and 19.4% in rural areas.
They said the overall figure was 4.4% lower when compared with the percentage of the population living within a 20 minute walk of a community pharmacy.
This "potentially has implications for the commissioning of future services from these healthcare providers in England", they added.
The team acknowledged that the study did not consider the length of wait of appointment times for GP premises, which they said is currently nine days for a non-urgent consultation.
Neither did it look at the number of GPs working within each premises, while they pointed out that many people will not be necessarily be registered to the closest practice to where they live anyway.
They concluded: "Working alongside GP premises, community pharmacies may therefore be in a unique position to deliver healthcare interventions, particularly in areas of greatest deprivation.
"They also offer the advantage that, at present, appointments are not needed to obtain healthcare advice."
Dr Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said she looked forward to working with whoever forms the new government to explore different ways of working such as pharmacists working as part of the GP practice team, as has been suggested by many.
She said of the study, which is published in BMJ Open: "Our patients should have easy access to their family doctor wherever in the country they live, and it is excellent news that nearly 85% people live within 20 minutes walk of their nearest surgery.
"It is also encouraging to see that patients living in areas of deprivation have easier than average access to their GP - and even easier access to a community pharmacy, where they can receive advice about medicines, and how to manage minor ailments.
"However, access to a local surgery is one thing - being able to see a GP is another, and we urgently need more family doctors and practice staff right across the UK so that we can provide the care our patients need and deserve, as close to home as possible."