Booked high street pharmacy consultations prove to be a winner

The last 12 months have seen some exciting developments in pharmacy, including the launch of a new way to provide quick access to treatment for minor illnesses through the NHS community pharmacist consultation service (CPCS).

This service maximises the clinical skills of community pharmacists and allows NHS 111 call advisors to offer patients with minor illness symptoms a booked, confidential consultation with a local pharmacist, often on the same day.

For all referrals, patient details are sent digitally from NHS 111 to the pharmacy and, if a person doesn’t attend, the pharmacist must phone them to follow up within 24 hours.

At the pharmacy, the patient receives a clinical assessment with a pharmacist in a private consultation room before being advised about the best course of treatment or care. In appropriate cases, this could include supplying patients with urgent repeat medicines.

The service is already proving hugely popular. Since the end of October 2019, over 200,000 people have benefited from quick treatment for a range of conditions including: coughs and sore throats, colds and flu, skin and eye problems, vomiting, diarrhoea, headache and back pain.

Using pharmacists’ skills in this way is helping to build multidisciplinary clinical teams in primary care, working across traditional boundaries, while at the same helping reduce pressure on GPs and other services.

With many local pharmacies open during the evenings and at weekends, the speed and convenience of the service looks like a winning combination.

Within 10 weeks of the CPCS launch, NHS 111 saw a significant 6% reduction in referrals to GP appointments and a corresponding increase in referrals to pharmacy of 10%.

And there’s also reassurance that in situations where a pharmacist needs to refer onwards, a clear process exists for quick referral to a GP or emergency department.

Over 10,700 pharmacies have now signed up – 93% of the total number in England – and feedback from pharmacists has been positive, including comments about increasing convenience for patients, integration with other elements of urgent care and future expansion of the service.

This success represents real progress in unlocking the potential of community pharmacists to treat more patients. To further support this, we’re piloting rollout of the service to include referrals from NHS 111 Online and GP surgeries, and we are currently evaluating and learning from 74 general practices around the country who are doing this.

In these surgeries, staff undertake a brief assessment of patients requesting a GP appointment before recommending and booking, in appropriate cases, a pharmacist consultation as an alternative. Just like the NHS 111 referrals to pharmacy, this is offered to patients who have symptoms of minor illness.

As with all Pharmacy Integration Fund pilots, we will undertake a thorough evaluation before any decision to rollout new services nationally.

Of course, some cultural shifts are needed to support this change, so it’s pleasing to see an increasing number of pharmacists, GPs, NHS colleagues, partners and patients engaging with our future plans and helping to shape progress.  We’ve also made significant investment in continuing professional development to support pharmacists in delivering new clinical services.

Our core aim remains to ensure that pharmacists, doctors and others work ever more closely for the benefit of the patients, so everyone can benefit from quick access to high quality advice and treatment, provided by the most appropriate person.

And finally, listening to pharmacists’ feedback so far, it’s clear that many want to do even more for patients.  We’re working on this too and are currently looking at how to increase the range of conditions included in the service.

Anne Joshua

Anne Joshua is Head of Pharmacy Integration for NHS England and NHS Improvement and is responsible for leading the programme of work supported by the Pharmacy Integration Fund. Prior to this she was Chief Pharmacist at NHS Direct before moving to NHS England in 2013 as NHS 111 Pharmacy Lead supporting the integrated urgent care programme.

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