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A pilot which aims to increase access to family doctors and build on the high confidence patients already have in pharmacists has been launched in Gateshead.
The NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) allows patients to have a same-day, booked private consultation with a local pharmacist in their own neighbourhood, when calling their family doctor with a minor illness.
Every pharmacist is trained in managing minor illnesses and providing health and wellbeing advice. They train for five years in the use of medicines before they qualify and register with the professional regulator, and some also have an additional prescribing qualification.
It is thought up to 6% of all GP consultations, that’s over 20 million appointments per year nationally, could be safely managed to a community pharmacy and managed via a clinical consultation with a community pharmacist.
When patients phone Central Gateshead Medical Group with a minor illness such as earache or a sore throat they may be offered a referral to one of 13 community pharmacists in the Gateshead area for a same-day, booked consultation, creating capacity for GP appointments for patients, who do need to be seen by a GP.
The patient’s referral details are sent through to the pharmacy using a secure NHS mail account, patients will then be sent a text message, confirming details of the appointment with a community pharmacist.
At the pharmacy, patients will have a confidential clinical assessment in a private consultation room. The pharmacist will then offer advice and recommend treatment for symptom relief if required. If at any time the pharmacist feels the patient could benefit from seeing a GP, the pharmacist can arrange this.
Following the appointment, the pharmacist will send an update of the consultation to the patient’s GP practice, ensuring patient records are kept up to date.
If for any reason a patient doesn’t attend the pharmacy, the pharmacist will try to contact the patient within an hour of pharmacy closing time. If the patient can’t be reached, a message will be left for the patient asking them to contact the pharmacist to agree next steps.
The NHS 111 pathway, which was developed and initially piloted in the North East, is also part of the CPCS and is being rolled out across England from 1 October 2019. This scheme refers patients from NHS111 to community pharmacy.
Andre Yeung, Local Professional Network Chair for NHS England Cumbria and the North East, said: “This is another fantastic example of partnership working between our health services that will undoubtedly reduce pressure on our GP services. Working closely with community pharmacists across Gateshead we will provide immediate access to a consultation with a pharmacist and closer to home.
“Pleasingly, evaluation of the North East scheme found that minor illness cases being referred to in-hours GPs from NHS111 fell from 70% to 40% and over 60% of consultations being referred were completed by the pharmacist; while only 15% were signposted to other services e.g. dentist, community services etc.”
Helen, head pharmacist at Well Pharmacy in Gateshead, said: “We are really excited to be part of this new service which extends the way in which people can use their local pharmacist for clinical advice.
“Pharmacies are easy for most people to access, we have private consultation rooms where we will carry out an assessment with each patient, provide advice, support and access to medicines if required.
“If at any time we think a patient could benefit from seeing a GP then we are able to assist in making that appointment.”
Dr Daniels, a GP from, Central Gateshead Medical Group, said: “The NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service will help us to deliver patient care closer to home, whilst freeing up capacity within primary care for other patients who require those services.
“Our patients are not only able to be seen very quickly but are also often able to have their issue dealt with there and then by the pharmacist.”
Professor Chris Gray, a medical director for the NHS in the North East and Yorkshire region, said: “This new pilot builds on the excellent skills of pharmacists to help patients and reduce pressure on other NHS services, particularly GPs.
“The NHS, through the long term plan is focused on supporting people to stay healthy and well, this pilot allows people that help and support as close to home as possible.”