The government has announced that from July patients discharged from hospitals will be digitally referred to their local pharmacy teams for healthcare support and medicines management.
The NHS Discharge Medicines Service (DMC) will help patients get the maximum benefits from new medicines by giving them the opportunity to ask questions to pharmacists and ensuring any concerns are identified as early as possible.
This is part of the Health Secretary’s vision of a ‘Pharmacy First’ approach to ease wider pressures on A&Es and General Practice.
Details of remuneration for pharmacy have not be made public although it has been said that the DMS is part of a raft of measures being rolled out in the second year of the five-year Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework, agreed in July 2019 between the NHS and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC).
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said: “I want all patients to get the right care close to home, and to avoid any unnecessary visits to hospital. To help do that I’ve begun the Pharmacy First programme, asking pharmacies to do more to support people in the community, as they do in other countries like France. It’s good for patients and great for the NHS because it reduces pressure on GPs and hospitals.
“These new services will help strengthen what community pharmacists can do, helping interrelation with General Practice and hospitals, and help them deliver safer, more efficient patient care right across the NHS.
“This new contract bolsters the enhanced role highly-skilled pharmacists are playing in preventing ill health and helping us to stay well in our communities.”
A recent audit of NHS hospital discharges showed that 79 per cent of patients were prescribed at least one new medication after being sent home.
New prescriptions can sometimes cause side effects, or interact with existing treatments, potentially leading to readmission.
Previous local schemes around the country have demonstrated that patients who see their local pharmacy teams after they’ve been in hospital are less likely to be readmitted and will experience a shorter stay if they are.
Bruce Warner, NHS England deputy chief pharmaceutical officer, said the new Discharge Medicines Service will “make even better use of the valuable and extensive clinical skills of community pharmacists so that people can ‘walk in’ and get the health advice and help they need, providing an excellent foundation on which we can build for the future.”
The new service supports recent research by the National Institute for Health Research which shows people over 65 are less likely to be readmitted to hospital if they are given help with their medication after discharge.
Simon Dukes, CEO of the PSNC, said: “We know that lots of people get confused by changes made to their medicines while in hospital and this new NHS Discharge Medicines Service from community pharmacies will help people to understand which medicines they should be taking and why.
Pharmacists will also be able to offer people advice on how to get the most benefit from their medicines.
“The service is a welcome development – people will be able to get advice about medicines close to their homes, reducing the likelihood of them being readmitted to hospital at a later date, thus saving the NHS millions of pounds each year. The service also links community pharmacies into the care of patients at a stressful time in their lives.”
The DMS is part of a plan to provide convenient local healthcare, particularly during winter, to help people stay well in their communities and avoid unnecessary trips to hospital, freeing up beds and resources for those most in need.
This includes the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, which in its first 16 weeks referred over 176,000 patients with minor illnesses or urgent medication needs to a pharmacist for a booked consultation through NHS111.
Ed Waller, NHS England director of primary care strategy and NHS contracts, said: “This agreement will deliver significant benefits to our patients as they are offered more health services closer to home and more personalised help with their medicines than ever before, with health care professionals across communities supported to work more closely together, as part of our NHS Long Term Plan.”