Nearly a third of community pharmacies in Wales should be able to prescribe medicines for NHS patients, including antibiotics, by the end of this year, health officials say.
It is the first new service of its kind in the UK.
The aim is to take the pressure off GPs at a time of increasing strain on the NHS.
Scotland has adopted a similar approach but England and Northern Ireland have not so far.
Community pharmacies in Wales are allowed to offer prescriptions of medicines for acute illnesses such as urinary tract and respiratory infections, gout and chronic pain, as well as emergency contraception – if they have a pharmacist who has had extra training for prescribing.
For most patients, that will be more convenient and avoid waits for GP appointments.
The plan is to roll out the service progressively across Wales, building on local schemes already in place.
Jonathan Smith, who runs the Mayberry Pharmacy, in Newport, said he was pleased to have a chance to provide a range of services in the local community.
“I spent years referring people to the GP for conditions I knew I could treat myself,” he said.
“Now I can do that, patients have much better access to care and the added benefit is that you know you are freeing up GP appointments for more complicated patients.”
Mr Smith specialises in prescribing painkillers for patients as well as offering consultations and prescriptions for many routine health problems.
Jack Rollings had tonsillitis and wanted to discuss options for pain relief, including prescription medication.
After an examination by Mr Smith, he was prescribed an appropriate drug.
It had been much more convenient than going to a GP practice, Mr Rollings said.
“It’s brilliant – it’ll help a lot of people because GPs are quite hard to get into at the moment so probably relieve a lot of pressure off them,” he said.
Local doctors in general practice have welcomed the new policy.
Dr Penny Coyle said each week about 25 patients with minor ailments were referred to the pharmacist, saving 100 GP appointments a month and giving doctors more time to visit seriously ill patients in their homes.
“We are finding that demand is outweighing capacity and so anything that relieves some of the pressure on general practice is very welcome,” she said.
Pharmacy organisations say this is a welcome recognition of the skills on offer at the heart of local communities.
There can be delays for patients needing repeat prescriptions from their GPs or when there are medicine shortages and alternatives are required urgently.
And many of these problems would be eased if there were more prescribing pharmacists, Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies chief executive Dr Leyla Hannbeck said.
“Pharmacist prescribers can help massively when you think about the shortages and the HRT issues, for example, that we are currently facing – having a pharmacist prescriber being able to prescribe alternative medicines without the patient having to wait to see the GP,” she said.
But while the latest move in Wales will improve services in local communities, it will take time and not ease the immediate strain on ambulance services, hospitals and general practice, health professionals say.
Giving patients access to consultations and prescriptions in local pharmacies is a trend likely to gain momentum.
The Scottish government says there is an ambition to have at least one pharmacist prescriber in every community pharmacy across the network.
An official at the Department of Health and Social Care in England said a pharmacist prescribing service was being considered in the NHS.
And in Northern Ireland, officials say the potential for extending existing services is being explored.
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