Improving urgent and emergency care through better use of pharmacists

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society believes that pharmacists are an underutilised resource in the delivery of better urgent and emergency care for patients.

A key issue with the current growth in waiting times for accident and emergency (A&E) services is the number of people with conditions that could be treated elsewhere but who use A&E services as an alternative source of healthcare. Some people view the A&E services as a valid first point of contact with the NHS. Incorporating pharmacists more fully into the delivery of urgent and emergency care would have a substantial impact on A&E waiting times and improve the care for patients. 

Pharmacists in Urgent & Emergency Care


  • NHS England should nationally contract all community pharmacies to provide a common ailment service. Pharmacists could save the NHS £1.1 billion by treating common ailments.
  • All A&E departments should incorporate a pharmacist to manage medicines related issues
  • NHS 111 should ensure, as part of the national standards, that pharmacists are considered as an option to support urgent and emergency care at a local level, particularly around treatment of common ailments and emergency supplies of medicines. 
Treating common ailments infographic


RPS Director of England Howard Duff discusses how urgent and emergency care can be improved through the better use of pharmacists. What are the issues currently being faced in this area and in what ways can pharmacy support?

Who's supporting our campaign?

Professor Nigel Mathers, Honorary Secretary of the Royal College of GPs says:

"Pharmacists are ideally placed to give advice and it is they – rather than GPs – who should be the first port of call for common ailments. Pharmacists can also discuss the various treatments available, many of which will be cheaper than the cost of a prescription."

College of Emergency Medicine President Dr Clifford Mann said:

"Pressure in A&E is a real concern for the NHS and we need the public to help by understanding where they can get the best care for their particular problem. Recognising that patients can use the skills and experience of pharmacists to treat common minor ailments would be an important step in this direction."

Keith Ridge, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for NHS England, said:

"Community pharmacy is a crucial part of NHS England’s vision to deliver urgent care closer to people’s homes. This report provides further evidence to demonstrate that patients can receive timely advice and treatment for minor conditions such as coughs and colds from their local pharmacy, rather than going to a GP or to A&E."

National Voices Chief Executive Jeremy Taylor says:

"Too often there’s an assumption that when people turn up at A&E they have made the ‘wrong’ choice and they are blamed for imposing a cost or a burden. However, people make choices based on their understanding and the information available, and how well they judge services to work. Therefore initiatives that highlight how people can get treatment for common ailments in a way that is both effective and easy to access are very welcome."

Read the briefing

Read our policy briefing outling how we think better use of pharmacists could improve urgent and emergency care »

Campaign successes

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Information for commissioners

Quick guide: Extending the role of community pharmacy in urgent care is designed to show commissioners and the NHS how community pharmacy can support year round system resilience and urgent care.

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