A task force set up to examine how pharmacists could begin prescribing medications to patients is expected to report back by October, the Health Minister has told The Pat Kenny Show.
Minister Stephen Donnelly has set up a pharmacist task force to examine how they could relieve the "huge pressure" on GPs.
It is hoped pharmacists will be able to prescribe medicines and extend prescriptions for patients as well as provide over-the-counter medicines to people with medical cards without a GP appointment.
On The Pat Kenny Show, Minister Donnelly said pharmacists are "capable of doing a lot more" than they are currently allowed to do.
"These are highly trained professionals – experts in medicine – they have an appetite to do a lot more," he said.
He said he is hoping the Task Force will make recommendations by October.
Minister Donnelly said the plan could see pharmacists prescribing medicines for minor ailments, extending prescriptions for patients and carrying out polypharmacy reviews to help patients on several medications.
Minister Donnelly said Government are hoping to take pressure off the GPs and to utilise pharmacists "to the very best of their abilities and their licences".
"It will be quicker for patients; it will be cheaper for people," he said.
"One of the things we want this task force to do is to look at extending repeat prescriptions ... [patients] will be able to go into their pharmacists, do a consultation with the pharmacist, and the pharmacist can say, 'Well, I can write a prescription to extend this.'"
The Health Minister also hopes pharmacists will be able to diagnose "minor ailments" such as "eye infections, skin infections, mild digestive issues and conjunctivitis".
To tackle the potential issue of "inappropriate prescribing", Minister Donnelly said the expert group will consider ways to link pharmacies and GPs together.
"We know there are close relationships between a lot of GPs and pharmacies or you can have IT systems whereby the pharmacies can view patient by patient," he said.
Minister Donnelly also highlighted the need for pharmacists to carry out "advanced prescribing".
"This would only be done with a pharmacist as part of a multidisciplinary team ... with significant additional specialist training, regulation, governance and oversight," he said.
As part of the "medicines shortage protocol", Minister Donnelly hopes to put in legislation to allow pharmacists to substitute medicines without GP oversight.
"What we'll have here is very significant additional specialist training, a regulatory framework in place ... and the task force that we've put together is a very serious group of people," he said.
The Health Minister said he "wouldn't accept" claims from pharmacists that the medicine shortage was due to Government offering low prices to manufacturers.
"This Government has invested a very significant amount of money in new medicines, I think the figure is about €100 million euro in the lifetime of this Government," he said.
"We are dealing with issues in terms of Brexit. We have recently lost the ability to package the medicines for both the UK and the Irish market.
"We're now the only English-speaking group country in the EU and so that is presenting some difficulties."