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Pharmacy sore throat pilot promotes appropriate antibiotic use

A pilot for an on-the-spot sore throat swab service promotes more efficient use of antibiotics among patients in parts of Wales, according to initial results.

The Sore Throat Test & Treat Service (STTT) is being piloted as part of the Common Ailment Scheme, which encourages patients to visit their community pharmacy instead of their GP for common ailments.

A total of 53 community pharmacies are taking part in the scheme so far; 30 in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and 23 in Cwm Taf University Health Board.

The test determines if a sore throat is caused by a virus - meaning antibiotics will not help -  or a type of a bacterial infection. Results from a throat swab are provided in minutes, and if a bacterial infection is present and the patient can be helped by antibiotics, they can be supplied by the pharmacist. Education that bacterial infections usually go away without antibiotics is also part of the service, and some patients choose to not take antibiotics even if the throat swab shows positive results.

More than 80%of the 1,000 patients who took part in the pilot between November and January were advised they did not need any antibiotics after taking the swab test.

Cheryl Way, Pharmacy and Medicines Management Lead at NHS Wales Informatics Service, said:

“Antibiotics do not work for most sore throats because they are caused by viruses. If a sore throat is cause by bacteria then sometimes antibiotics are needed, but not always. STTT ensures that patients take antibiotics only when they are truly needed, and without putting extra pressure on GP workload for getting a prescription.

“This is another success of the Choose Pharmacy Platform that we have developed at NHS Wales Informatics Service, and it really shows how technology can support pharmacists to deliver enhanced services.”

Emma Williams, National Clinical Lead for Choose Pharmacy, said:

“This service is a really good example of how NHS Wales Informatics Service, health boards and community pharmacists have worked together to support patient access to appropriate NHS care.

“Pharmacists working within the pilot have received additional training to deliver the service and see how it supports colleagues in GP practices and out of hours to provide appropriate patient care.

“Patient feedback has been really positive with patients considering the service accessible and helpful. The NHS Wales Informatics Service development and implementation teams have worked very hard to deliver a high quality application that supports the delivery of the service within the tight deadline for the project. “

Efi Mantzourani, Research and Evaluation Lead in NHS Wales Informatics Service and Senior Lecturer in Pharmacy Practice in Cardiff University, said:

“We are pleased that initial evaluation showed such promising results for the new STTT service. We will continue to analyse data for at least one year to see how seasonal variations may affect the service, and we will investigate whether there is a reduction in consultation rates across primary care for sore throat, as the data we have so far is only self-reported.”