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Practices can now start referring patients to pharmacies for minor illnesses

by Awil Mohamoud
2 November 2020

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The NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service has now been extended to include referrals from GP practices. 

The service, which enables practices to refer patients to pharmacies for treatment of minor illnesses, previously only accepted referrals from NHS 111. 

A recent pilot found that the use of CPCS in general practice freed up appointments and reduced patient demand.

Rollout of the new pathway, which started on 1 November, ‘will be gradually achieved over the next few months’, according to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC). 

Before practices can start making referrals, there will need to be local agreement as to how it will work between pharmacy contractors, primary care networks’ (PCNs) member general practices, the NHS and local pharmaceutical committees (LPC), it added.

Unlike NHS 111 advisors, GP practices will not be able to make a referral for an urgent supply of medicine.

‘It will be highly valued by patients and general practice’

Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at PSNC, said: ‘The rollout of this new referral pathway will be gradually achieved over the next few months; this is deliberately not a big bang start. However, the official commencement is still a noteworthy event, as we expect this addition to the CPCS to become a community pharmacy service offering, which is highly valued by patients and general practice alike.

‘The NHS has a significant task to undertake in supporting general practices to engage with the CPCS. Discussions between community pharmacy and general practice within PCNs will also be critical to achieving a successful local rollout. In some cases this may be the first time the two professions have had such discussions, but while there may be challenges to overcome, this referral pathway should create a new foundation of collaboration between general practices and pharmacies, which can be built on in the years ahead.’

Pilot scheme

The CPCS system was originally launched in October 2019, and piloted with 35 GP practices and 104 pharmacies in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) – all of which will now move over to the new service.

Practice reception teams – who had received care navigation training – offered patients requesting a GP appointment for minor illnesses the alternative option of a consultation with a local community pharmacist. Where patients agreed, receptionists sent secure personal data, including a short description of the condition, to a local pharmacy of their choice. 

Over 4,000 consultations were completed under the pilot scheme, with 71% of patients receiving advice from a local pharmacist and an over the counter product to manage their concern, according to NHS England and Improvement (NHS&I).