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A new NHS scheme has seen tens of thousands of people in the North West get a fast, safe, face-to-face consultation with a local pharmacist during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the programme went live ahead of winter, more than 58,000 people across the region have now benefited from the NHS Community Pharmacy Consultation Service – more than any other region in England. Around 23,000 referrals have taken place since the NHS stepped up its response to the virus, allowing GPs and hospital staff to focus on those who need their help the most.
Available through the free, fast and popular NHS 111 phone or online service, the new service gives patients the option of being instantly booked into 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.
Those who would benefit can choose one of the more than 1,500 participating pharmacies in the North West after an initial assessment by a call advisor.
Local pharmacies have now joined GP practices, out of hours GP and dental services, and Urgent Treatment Centres among the range of alternatives to hospital A&Es than people can be booked into if they need urgent care.
In the North West, the service is running alongside a pilot scheme in which patients can also be referred into community pharmacy services by GP practices. The pilot, which initially launched in Haydock, Merseyside, and Darwen, Lancashire, has been well received by patients, with 78% of those referred into it taking up a pharmacy consultation. Between June and October 2020, the pilot will be trialled with wider practices in the areas covered by Knowsley and Blackburn with Darwen Clinical Commissioning Groups.
Dr David Levy, NHS North West Medical Director, said: “The pharmacy consultation service is helping people to get access to the right help fast, without the need to go to hospital A&Es or their GP.
“During the coronavirus pandemic, it has provided a safe and convenient way for people who don’t have the virus to get medicines urgently or help for minor illnesses and they will be able to continue to benefit from this service as we move into the next phase.”
Nick Goodwin, Pharmacist at Vicar’s Cross Pharmacy in Cheshire, said: “We’ve been taking referrals from NHS 111 since November 2019 and it’s been really well received by patients. We can see people quickly and give them the advice and treatment they need and we can also escalate a referral into other services such as an out of hours GP if we feel people need further medical help.
“We’ve ended up supporting whole families with their health and prescription needs on the back of an NHS 111 referral because they’ve been so happy with the help they’ve received.”
Tahir Hussain, Pharmacist at Cohen’s Chemist, Darwen, Lancashire, said: “Patients feel it’s a fantastic service – definitely the future – which provides quick and convenient access to a health professional, namely the pharmacist, on the SAME day, and helps to free up appointments in GP practices for those who really need them.”
The introduction of 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 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.
The 10 most common symptom groups referred under the minor illness scheme as at the end of April were:
- Eye or eyelid problems
- Sore Throat and/or hoarse voice
- Skin problems
- Wrist, hand, or finger pain or swelling
- Lower back pain
- Bites or stings, insect or spider
- Ankle or foot pain or swelling
The numbers of patients accessing the service in different parts of the North West since it launched are:
Cheshire & Merseyside: 22,900
Greater Manchester: 20,400
Lancashire & South Cumbria: 14,700
Nick Goodwin, Vicar’s Cross Pharmacy, Cheshire
Tahir Hussain, Cohen’s Chemist, Lancashire