NHS England is trialling a smartphone app that allows women suffering with urinary tract infections to get treatment without seeing a GP.
Urinary tract infection (UTI) – also known as cystitis – is one of the most common bacterial infections seen by GPs, with suspected UTIs account for up to 3% of all GP visits.
In England alone, this adds up to around 10.2 million consultations, and costs the NHS more than £316 million in GP time.
The new Dip UTI test, developed by Healthy.io, combines the standard dipstick urine test used by GPs with a smartphone app that analyses the results and provides a diagnosis.
Instead of waiting for a GP appointment, women who suspect they have a urinary tract infection will be able to pick up a Dip UTI kit from their local pharmacy.
The kit includes the same dipstick test used by doctors, a pop-up plastic cup for urine collection, as well as a colour board used to analyse the results.
Users can download the app onto their iPhone or Android smartphone. The app has a virtual nurse who talks them through the procedure and ensures every step is carried out correctly.
Once the strip has been dipped into a mid-stream urine sample, it is placed on the colour board and the user scans it with their smartphone's camera.
The Dip UTI app then uses colour blocks on the board as a reference to accurately detect any colour changes on the dipstick which indicate a bacterial infection.
The colour board allows the app to eliminate any variation from phone to phone, and replicates the result that would appear in a neutral, ambient light.
Research confirms it analyses results with the accuracy of laboratory analysers and greater precision than the visual reads performed by GPs and other healthcare professionals.
If the user tests positive for cystitis, they will be able to show the results to their pharmacist and obtain antibiotics to treat the infection immediately.
The initiative is designed to provide women with rapid relief from symptoms, reduce complications due to delayed treatment and curb the number of unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics.
It also has the potential to free up millions of GP appointments and save the NHS millions of pounds, according to pharmacist Sid Dajani, a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Board and an advisor to Healthy. io.
"If only one in ten women with a UTI was treated in a pharmacy instead of their GP, the NHS would save £28million a year in England alone and there would be millions more appointments available for more serious or urgent problems," said Dajani.
The app and testing kit are being trialled in 38 "Pharmacy First" branches across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
Through the NHS pilot, the kit and consultation will be free and, if needed, antibiotics will be provided for the usual NHS prescription charge of £9 or free for those who do not normally pay for prescriptions.
"This innovative pharmacy scheme offers rapid relief for women while freeing up GP appointments," said Dr Ken Deacon, Medical Director for NHS England in the Midlands.
"UTI is the most common bacterial infection in humans and it affects up to 15% of women every year.
"Under the scheme, women who don't test positive for a UTI will have a follow-up consultation. This allows the pharmacist to explore further the possible causes of their symptoms and discuss treatment or a GP referral."
The kit is also rolling out across around 300 Boots stores across England. However, these will not be available on the NHS, so users will have to pay £10 to buy the test kit, plus an additional £15 for antibiotics if required.
This web link allows patients to find their nearest Boots or Pharmacy First outlet stocking the kit.
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