One in seven people were forced to visit a pharmacy at least twice because they were unable to see their GP due to coronavirus, a survey has found.
More than 2,000 adults were asked if they had to turn to their local pharmacist because their doctor couldn’t see them at the surgery in person due to Covid-19 safety measures.
While 20 per cent said they had been once, 15 per cent said they had visited at least twice – the equivalent of eight million people in a population of approximately 52 million (almost one in seven people).
For those who had to turn to their pharmacy at least once, 42 per cent needed help for minor illnesses and 33 per cent for access to medication.
Meanwhile, 15 per cent needed health checks, such as measuring their blood pressure, and eight per cent wanted to discuss their mental wellbeing.
However, six per cent wanted to discuss changes to their physical health and 12 per cent needed new lumps and swellings examined – prompting concerns that many people who are worried they have cancer are being forced to turn to their pharmacist rather than their GP.
Andrew Lane, chair of the National Pharmacy Association, which commissioned the research, said: “Pharmacy teams absorb pressure that would otherwise fall onto other parts of the system, including GPs and A&E – and in that way we’ve helped to keep the wheels on the NHS over these traumatic recent months.
“While it’s been necessary for other parts of the health service to restrict the amount of face-to-face care they give, pharmacies have kept their doors open throughout the pandemic, including all lockdowns.
“People trust their local pharmacists and most can get to a pharmacy within a matter of minutes, including in the most deprived areas. That level of access is unsurpassed elsewhere in the health service.”
In March, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, told MPs the NHS would take a “digital-first approach” to primary care and urged patients to consult their GPs via the phone or video calls.
GP appointments carried out over the phone or via video calls more than doubled between January and August, rising from 2.5 million to 5.8 million, according to an analysis by The Telegraph.
Last month, Mr Hancock, Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and Amanda Pritchard, chief operating officer at NHS England, all stated the NHS is open for patients, but the data shows face-to-face appointments have plateaued, remaining well below normal levels.
The number of patients seeing their doctor in person dropped to just 2.7 million in April, down from 10 million in January. And the figure has only increased slightly to 3.7 million in August – around five million fewer than last year’s figures.
Cancer Research UK said that, since March, more than 350,000 people who would normally have been urgently referred to hospital with suspected cancer have not been.
It said too many patients had been left struggling to get an appointment or had been scared off seeing their GP for fear of being a burden on the health service or catching Covid-19.