Editorial: All day every day, not just Sundays

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 September, 2021 at 1:54 pm by Andre Camilleri

In the UK, a 2018 Local Government report found that one in five GP appointments are for minor conditions, totalling 57 million consultations a year. This costs the free healthcare system of the NHS £2 billion a year and an hour of each GP’s time a day. Many people look for a prescription to fix their illness, despite the same treatment often being available over the counter more cheaply. One small recent study of practices in Scotland showed that a clinical pharmacist based in a GP practice could free up to five hours of GP time a week, just by taking on prescribing work. Subsequently, the UK has campaigned heavily to avoid going to the GP for minor ailments and instead visit the pharmacist. Although there is no formal list of conditions you should go to a pharmacist about, common sense and evaluating the severity of the illness or injury should help you know who to see

Pharmacists, practice nurses and other qualified healthcare professionals can provide the same care whilst reducing the workload for GPs and making it easier for you to get an appointment. So should we all be heading to our local pharmacy instead of a GP? Locally, we have yet to see such studies, and government drives push the public to visit a pharmacist for advice.  Secondly, there is the recent hotly contested issue of opening hours. In the UK, some pharmacies are open 24/7, along with many EU countries. However, it seems in Malta, Sundays, Public holidays and out of hours pharmacies are somewhat of a unicorn. There’s no denying pharmacies are a huge key in helping us save on resources, and we need them 24/7.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne said discussions with stakeholders are currently ongoing to keep pharmacies open on Sundays in the morning and in the afternoon. Every Sunday, a different set of pharmacies open in Malta, usually from 9am to noon, but pharmacy hours may vary. The only pharmacy that opens with the usual hours is located at the Malta International Airport. Maybe we are inching closer to opening later hours, however we are far from our European counterparts. Why should we be denied this right to medicine at all times?

We all know Malta is a relatively small place. There are half a million people on an island just a few miles in length and breadth; the need for 24-hour access to medicines is there. Perhaps starting with pharmacies always open to the public at the leading hospitals would be a good starting point- just ask anyone with a chronic toothache.

We need to move forward. In every European petrol station, one can buy a newspaper, carton of milk, pack of bacon, heartburn tablets and paracetamol at 4am. In Malta, we buy fuel from a machine, if that’s working. Much progress is needed.

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