Proposals have been put forward by leading health professionals to NHS England which would see pharmacists helping to treat patients at GP practices across England.

The plans, which have been put forward by the Royal College of General Practice (RCGP) and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), would see pharmacists treating patients with common ailments, providing health advice and prescribing medication, once extra training had been completed.

The plans have been announced as the RCGP predicts that patients have waited more than a week to get an appointment with a GP on around 67 million occasions this year, at a time when there is a surplus of skilled pharmacists who could ease the burden. GP and pharmacist leaders said the move would help to support GPs and NHS staff who are handling unprecedented demand for their services.

NHS England has said that the idea complements plans to increase staff at GP surgeries, but it remains unclear whether or not the proposals will be taken forward.

Shadow health secretary and Labour MP, Andy Burnham told the BBC that he was concerned that this would be “medicine on the cheap” with patients seeing pharmacists when what they really want and need is time with a GP.

Gwen Kirby-Dent, a senior medical negligence solicitor based in Thompsons Solicitors’ Chelmsford office, said: “Any proposal to support NHS staff and ease the demand on them and the services they seek to provide is welcome, but these proposals should be taken forward only with proper planning and thought.

“The NHS and its staff are facing unparalleled demands that come with an ageing population and unprecedented government budget cuts, but the response to that should not be anything that could be a watering down of the high level of care that the NHS stands for and that patients are entitled to expect.

“Taking these proposals forward must not be a quick fix or a way of saving money but only if it is genuinely concluded after proper study, training and trialling that pharmacists supporting GPs is a positive move.

“Patients need to know with absolute certainty that they are receiving the best possible care and treatment, and healthcare staff need to be confident that they have received the right training and have the correct resources at their disposal or there is a risk that change will come at a cost to patient safety.”