The country’s biggest pharmacy chain will reportedly start offering GP-style health appointments for money.
Boots is to provide face-to-face consultations for minor ailments this winter, it has announced.
Of the 6,600 pharmacists employed across the chain’s 2,336 stores, those trained as independent prescribers will be able to diagnose conditions and even write prescriptions.
Boots will also offer pay-as-you-go doctors services online – an alternative to the NHS which is free.
The pricing structure for the venture has not been announced yet, but the fee for appointments with a pharmacists start from £15, which includes the cost of prescription.
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Boots chief executive Seb James likened the service to a popular high street chicken restaurant.
“Rather than wait two weeks to see a GP, people can get immediate diagnosis, treatment and medication for the price of a Nando’s,” he told The Sun.
Mr James went on to liken the new privatised doctors service to Boots’ testing role during the pandemic, which came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the pharmacists’ top man
“I assured him we would not seek to make a profit out of Covid,” Mr James continued.
“This policy enabled us to move quickly and help the nation. Hopefully, this new venture will continue that trend.”
The announcement comes in the week after NHS data showed that far fewer face-to-face appointment are taking place compared to before the pandemic.
Just 58% of patients saw a doctor in the flesh in August – the first full month following the ending of restrictions.
That compares with 54% in January and over 80% before the pandemic.
The coronavirus testing programme and the increased vulnerability of elderly patients, coupled with a 7% fall in GP numbers over the past five years partially explains the fall in numbers.
Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, has said that over the phone and online consultations will remain a central part of the country’s healthcare system post-pandemic.
“There’s a role for remote consultations when it comes to health care,” he said at the Conservative Party conference.
“I suspect, in fact I know, from speaking to the clinicians that a lot of that will continue.”
Remote treatment and consultations carried out by those not trained as doctors may impact how many people with subtle symptoms aren’t properly diagnosed and treated.
At the moment two-thirds of people with “red-flag” symptoms of cancer are not being given urgent referrals.
Nearly one in 25 of those patients, whose GPs did not spot early warning signs, were diagnosed with cancer within the following year.