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An NHS scheme which has seen tens of thousands of people get a fast, safe, face-to-face appointment with a local pharmacist is accelerating as people start to return to normal life after the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Almost a third of a million health checks have now taken place under the new scheme, the majority of which – more than 180,000 – have taken place since the NHS stepped up its response to the emerging threat of coronavirus at the end of January.
The ambition for the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service was set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, published in January 2019, as one of a number of improvements to the popular 111 service to enable the public to access the right help in the right place.
Available through the fast and free NHS 111 phone or online service, those who would benefit are booked in for a face-to-face consultation with a pharmacist for a range of minor illnesses or to get an urgent supply of a previously prescribed medicine.
With the NHS encouraging more people to come forward for care who might have held back due to COVID-19 concerns, local pharmacies are gearing up to provide an increasing number of consultations safely, so that all those who would benefit can be referred.
NHS chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, said: “High street pharmacists are highly qualified clinical experts who are playing a key part in the NHS’s frontline response to the greatest public health threat in our history, and they are making thousands of safe, convenient consultations available every day.
“This new service is part of a continually-developing NHS 111 service which is helping millions of people to safely access the right help fast, often without the need to go to a hospital A&E department.
“As the NHS adapts its urgent care services for the coronavirus era, these new options are going to be increasingly important.”
Local pharmacies have joined GP practices, out of hours GP and dental services, and Urgent Treatment Centres among the range of alternatives to hospital A&Es that people can be booked into if they need urgent care.
This is in addition to the clinical advice dispensed to thousands of patients who every day choose to phone or walk into their local pharmacy to seek help with minor health concerns or with their medicines.
Almost 190,000 people have been referred to the CPCS service for an urgent medicines supply – with online referrals accounting for 91% of requests for urgent medicines supply (UMS) in London alone during the COVID-19 period.
Many others have been offered a same day consultation by the NHS 111 service to support with minor illnesses including skin problems, sore throat, eye problems, back pain and other injuries.
An additional 12% were successfully escalated after immediate triage by the pharmacist, helping thousands to get the urgent care and treatment they need as quickly as possible. An escalation by a pharmacist may be the push many need to seek care during an uncertain time, as some put off seeking urgent medical help due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Dr Keith Ridge said: “Pharmacies across England have put their all into supporting their communities during COVID-19 and made a real difference to so many patients and their families.
“Now, more than ever, access to same day advice and care via the CPCS is even more valued – as demonstrated by these high usage numbers.
“The achievement of 332,000 referrals since the service started at the end of October last year is phenomenal and demonstrates once and for all how much trust the public places in NHS 111 and their local pharmacist. Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to make this a success.”
Demonstrating the value of the service for pharmacists, 94% (10,815) of all NHS pharmacies in England have registered to provide these services.
Martin Uhelak, superintendent pharmacist, Pavilion Pharmacy, London, said: “Our pharmacy has been a hub of support to the community throughout the crisis. As addition to our normal service, we’ve helped many through the NHS 111 CPCS scheme. We’ve also set up a service to help deliver medicines to self-isolating patients by putting a request out via local neighbourhood apps for support, and then inviting respondents to attend training sessions.
“I’m so proud of all the pharmacy team and how we’ve risen to the challenge of COVID-19, providing clinical advice on minor illnesses and medicines and often reassuring families with children, older people living alone and those people who have been struggling to cope.”
Minister for Primary Care, Jo Churchill said: “I’m delighted that the brilliant work of local pharmacy teams means that tens of thousands of people have been able to access timely advice and treatments through this innovative consultation scheme.
As the pharmacy sector continues to adapt and adopt new ways of working, services like this demonstrate that pharmacy and the wider NHS will always be there for those who need it.”