Heath bosses have thanked patients in South Tyneside for taking 25,000 people out of GP waiting rooms in the borough.
The ‘Think Pharmacy First’ scheme was launched 15 months ago in a bid to help GPs focus their time on the patients who need them most.
The project has enabled each of the borough’s GP services to free up about 35 appointments every month.
Around 900 of these patients would have normally visited their GP every month with their ailments.
A further 60 would have used another service such as an out of hours GP, or paid a visit the A&E or the urgent care hub at South Tyneside District Hospital in Harton Lane, South Shields.
Dr Jon Tose, a local GP and clinical director at NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “With NHS services under immense pressure nationwide, it’s worth bearing in mind that pharmacists offer free, professional advice with no need for an appointment.
“Last year we asked people to help us ease the pressure on GPs by using the Think Pharmacy First scheme for minor health problems.
“I’d like to thank the thousands of people who have taken that on board and helped to free up around 35 GP appointments every month for every practice in the borough.
“Those appointments can now be used for patients who need them more urgently.”
Under the scheme, patients can get free, professional advice for a range of day-to- day health problems from local pharmacists. They can also provide medicines free over the counter if they feel people need them, to those who are exempt from prescription charges – such as children or people on low incomes.
Dr Tose added: “Pharmacists are highly trained health professionals. They are experts on medicine, but can also advise on common problems like coughs, colds, aches and pains, as well as healthy eating and stopping smoking.
“We know that people often visit their GP with minor illnesses, when a pharmacist could have helped them with no appointment needed – so it’s encouraging to see that almost 400 people are now getting advice in South Tyneside pharmacies every week.”
He added: “Visiting your pharmacy for advice can save you time, and helps the NHS too.
“If you need to see a GP, the pharmacist will recognise that and refer you to your GP.”
The figures show that 71% of Think Pharmacy First consultations were for patients aged 18 and under, with 7% used by over-65s.
For a list of common health problems covered under the scheme, visit www.southtynesideccg.nhs.uk.