'GPs’ receptionists will divert patients to see pharmacists in a bid to relieve pressure on family doctors.
The NHS plan aims to prevent 20 million GP appointments, with many of those telephoning for help instead offered a “same day” slot at a local chemist.
Health officials said the moves would mean more accessible and convenient access to services.
But patients’ groups said the measures were “worrying” - with fears that critical decisions could end up being taken by those with little training in how to assess patients.
It comes amid growing shortages of GPs and record number of patients struggling to even get through on the phone.
From October, those calling 111 will be offered appointments at their local pharmacists if call handlers believe they are suffering from a minor ailment.
Meanwhile, the NHS will pilot the same system for patients trying to make a GP appointment - with hopes to introduce the system nationally within nine months.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the moves were similar to “the French model” where pharmacists have a stronger role providing healthcare. Officials said the plans may be extended still further, to divert patients attempting to seek help from Accident & Emergency departments.
The changes are part of a five-year contract with pharmacists.
Mr Hancock said: “Pharmacists are integral to community health and I want to move towards the French model, where they offer a wider range of services and play a stronger role in the community.”
He said the plans would support patients and help to relieve pressure on the wider health service.
Dr Keith Ridge, NHS chief pharmaceutical officer, said: “This deal provides the accessible and convenient healthcare that the public really want.”
But Joyce Robins, from Patient Concern, said: “It seems like a terrible idea. I can see the need to reduce pressures on GPs given how hard it can be to see one, but it is worrying to have reception staff taking such important decisions.”'
Read more: GP receptionists will offer patients appointments at chemists, in bid to take pressure off family doctors
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