We’re all familiar with the notion of optometry practices relieving the strain on creaking hospital departments and easing the burden on the NHS, but as pharmacists can attest, easing that burden can be a double-edged sword.

The current pressure on GPs, hospitals and industrial action by nurses and paramedics has ratcheted up the pressure on pharmacists, and some have begun to push back on GP referral schemes, saying the pressure of treating complex medical needs is putting patient safety at risk.

Max Punni, the owner of 11 pharmacies, recently told BBC Points West: ‘We’ve had people coming in with eye infections, Strep A, I had a patient come in who had been sectioned, who came in and self-harmed and was bleeding in the pharmacy. We’ve seen a large increase in the number of people being referred – sometimes inappropriately.’

It seems that optometry now has the potential to ease the burden on not just GPs and hospitals but pharmacies as well, although questions must be asked why GPs are referring patients with eye problems to pharmacists and not local optometry practices, whether they’re part of schemes like Mecs or otherwise.

Pressure on the NHS is said to be unprecedented, but there are solutions that are ready and waiting. A fee-paying scheme for pharmacists was swiftly introduced in England in 2020 in response to record demand, why are similar schemes not being introduced for patients with eye problems?

Just in case you were wondering, it’s a financially thankless task for pharmacists too, receiving just £14 for GP referrals. Not so bad if dealing with someone with a sore throat, but not so great if the patient is self-harming in the pharmacy. Or dying, as one person did in one of Punni’s practices just before Christmas.