North East pharmacy service wins ‘Health Initiative of the Year’

A pioneering North East service where patients calling NHS 111 are diverted to local pharmacies for help with minor illnesses has won a national award.

The Community Pharmacy Referral Service (CPRS), an NHS England Pharmacy Integration Fund commissioned pilot, allows NHS 111 operators to refer non-emergency patients to their nearest community pharmacy for a consultation during the day, at the weekend and out of hours.

Over 8,000 patients in the North East have now been referred into the service for advice from a pharmacist. Of those seen, only 11% have been referred to a GP for an urgent in hours appointment and another 11% referred out of hours for support. 

Originally launched in the North East for six months from December 2017, the scheme has since been extended until the end of the year and is now being set up in other areas including Devon, London and the East Midlands to help reduce pressure on urgent GP care and A&E departments.

The additional schemes will be set up in the new areas this autumn and will adopt the model used in the North East.

CPRS beat seven other shortlisted entries in the 2018 Chemist and Druggist ‘Health Initiative of the Year’ category.

Image: Left to right: Sean O’Reilly, UK Market Development Manager, Commercial Operations, Valneva; Andre Yeung; Mike Maguire; Meera Syal: Credit: Chemist+Druggist

The judges said, “It’s inspiring to see a scheme like this, which makes full use of the sector’s potential and reduces NHS pressure in the bargain.”

The North East scheme is run by the NHS in partnership with local pharmacy contractors and North East Ambulance Service.  Over 380 pharmacies across Durham, Darlington, Tees, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear are currently taking part.

Andre Yeung, Local Professional Network Chair – Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, a member of the team that set up the service, said: “Patients really like the fact they can see a pharmacist close to home and quickly, and the service has the potential to deliver benefits to the public across the country.

“We are delighted that pharmacists are making such a difference to patient care and that the service being recognised and supported.”

Over 80% of patients surveyed report that they are ‘very satisfied’ and the pilot has been extended to three more areas for a further six months.

Keith Ridge, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer said: “I am extremely pleased that the scheme has been recognised for this award.  Highly skilled pharmacists are often best placed to give clinical advice to patients on a range of symptoms and treatments for minor health concerns and are trained to assess whether a patient needs a follow up with a GP or referral to another specialist health service provider.”

Currently 2.5 % of all NHS 111 calls across England are referred to a community pharmacy.

Previously, less than 1% of all NHS 111 referrals were to a community pharmacy – calls were referred to other primary care locations such as General Practices, walk-in centres or, in some cases, A&E. These appointments can restrict the time that GPs have to focus on patients with greater clinical need.

NHS England’s Medical Director for Cumbria and the North East, Professor Chris Gray, said: “This is an innovative service that builds on the excellent skills of pharmacists to help patients and reduce pressure on other NHS services, particularly GPs.

“The team, supported by the community of pharmacists here in the North East, have worked incredibly hard to get this pioneering project off the ground and I’m delighted that they have been recognised in this way.”

Mark Richardson, Emergency Operations Centre section manager, who has led on the project for North East Ambulance Service, said: “As an innovative service, we’re always keen to trial new services for the benefit of our patients and the wider health service around us.

“As well as helping us deliver patient care closer to home, this service also benefits the wider healthcare economy by freeing up capacity within primary care for other patients who require those services. Furthermore, it has extremely high patient satisfaction levels as patients are able to be seen very quickly and are often able to have their issue dealt with there and then by the pharmacist.”


How it works: The pharmacy receives electronic notification from CPRS that a patient has been referred and will follow up with the patient if they do not attend the pharmacy within 12 hours of referral.

Every pharmacist is trained in managing minor illnesses and providing health and wellbeing advice, so they are the right person to see for minor health concerns. 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.

Community pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are qualified healthcare professionals who can offer clinical advice and over the counter medicines to effectively and safely manage a range of minor health concerns.

The Chemist and Druggist awards were held on 4 July 2018