Patients benefit from same-day pharmacist referrals in drive to relieve pressure on doctors

  • Over 114,000 patients have already benefitted from referrals to highly-skilled pharmacists
  • New ‘pharmacy first’ referral service taken up by over 10,600 pharmacies since October 2019, to relieve pressure on GPs and A+E departments
  • Delivers on Long Term Plan aim of helping more people stay healthy in their communities

Over one hundred thousand patients with minor illnesses or urgent medication needs have received same-day pharmacist referrals this winter – helping patients get the care they need in the community and avoid GP or hospital visits.

The NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS), launched by NHS England and NHS Improvement in October last year, allows NHS 111 advisors to refer patients with minor illnesses to their local pharmacist for assessment and treatment.

The first 10 weeks of the scheme has seen 114,275 patients with minor illnesses, or those who urgently need medicines, directed from NHS 111 to a consultation with their local pharmacist.

This comprised 64,067 requests for urgent medication, for conditions such as diabetes or asthma, and clinical advice provided to 50,208 people with a minor illness, such as a sore throat or earache.

This relieves pressure on the wider NHS by connecting patients with community pharmacy as their first port of call for clinical advice for minor illnesses.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said:

“I want to see pharmacists ready and able to do much more to help people stay healthy and prevent pressure on hospitals. This Pharmacy First approach makes life easier for patients and will help reduce pressure in the NHS. I want to see more patients with minor illnesses assessed close to home, saving them unnecessary trips to A&E or the GP, and helping people get the care and advice they need quicker.

“Thousands of patients receiving same-day advice from highly-skilled pharmacists is exactly what we need. Community pharmacy is an integral and trusted part of the NHS and we want every patient with a minor illness to think ‘pharmacy first’.

“This is just part of this government’s work to deliver on the people’s priorities and strengthen our NHS. Our record financial commitment for the NHS of £33.9 billion extra every year within the next 5 years – which we’re enshrining in law – will also allow us to expand frontline services with 50,000 more nurses, 6,000 more GPs and 6,000 more primary care professionals.”

Dr Bruce Warner, Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, NHS England and NHS Improvement, said it has been “a fantastic success”, adding:

“This unlocks the full potential of community pharmacy, giving it a more central role in healthcare and speeding up patients’ access to excellent care and face-to-face consultations. The number of referrals from NHS 111 in the first two months alone shows how well it is working and reaction has been good, with people telling us they have been satisfied with the service they received.”

A total of 10,610 pharmacies have already registered with the CPCS and the enhanced role for pharmacists is a key part of the NHS Long Term Plan, encouraging the public to make better use of clinical expertise closer to home.

Pharmacists are highly skilled health professionals who undergo five years of training, giving them expert knowledge on how to use medicines to support patients and manage minor illnesses. Patients still have a range of convenient options for accessing care.

The ‘pharmacy first’ approach is funded through the £2.592 billion per year agreed in the five-year community pharmacy contractual framework, which sets out an expanded role for community pharmacy to help more people stay well closer to home.

In the South East, several local pharmacists have signed up to offer the service:

Pharmacist James Tibbs who runs AR Pharmacy in West Totton, Hampshire said:

“This new service will help people suffering with minor illnesses get faster healthcare advice closer to home. Pharmacies are really convenient, especially at evenings or weekends and the new service will prove hugely popular with patients. The service recognises the skills of community pharmacists in managing minor illnesses and medicines, and I’m delighted that we’re able to offer this service to our community”.

James Wood, a pharmacist and Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy Surrey & Sussex (local pharmaceutical committees) said:

“The NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service is an exciting development and the start of community pharmacies in England becoming the go-to place for minor illness. We have seen a high level of engagement from pharmacies across the South East, providing good coverage across the region and highlighting the expertise and professionalism of community pharmacists’ and the valuable work that pharmacies do for their communities. We have worked closely with the NHS and other providers to help launch the service and hope to continue our collaborative efforts in future years, as the service develops to include referral from GPs, and as pharmacies become increasingly recognised as the go to place for minor illness self-referral by patients themselves.”

Mark Donaghy, Chair of West Sussex Local Pharmaceutical Committee and a Kamsons pharmacist said:

“It makes sense for the NHS to utilise the skills of community pharmacists more and pharmacies throughout Sussex are ready to provide the NHS consultation service. We are seeing patients becoming more aware of the skills that their local pharmacist can offer and using their local pharmacy for an ever-broader range of services.”

As the NHS is already looking after significantly more people than ever before, patients can use the free NHS 111 phone and online service for urgent medical needs, see their local pharmacist for minor illnesses and ensure they have the medication they need.