GPs could refer more than 20 million patients to community pharmacy each year, NHS England’s director of primary care strategy has said.
During a speech at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) conference in Manchester on June 20, Ed Waller presented data from GP Forward View which estimated that six per cent of all GP appointments, totalling up to 20.4 million per year, could be transferred to community pharmacy.
He told the conference that the GP practice referral to community pharmacy via the ‘pharmacy connection’ scheme was being rolled out across Cheshire and Merseyside STP, Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS, Cumbria and the North East STP and Greater Manchester.
The scheme is financially supported through the Pharmacy Integration Fund.
Ed Waller also said that four sites – North East, East Midlands, London and Devon – were chosen to offer the first pilot for NHS111 call referrals to nearly two thousand pharmacies through to the end of September.
He told delegates that a patient calling NHS111 over minor illness could be automatically referred to a community pharmacy.
Outlining the role of community pharmacy within the NHS Long Term plan, Waller said: “we want community pharmacy to be the first port of call for minor illness within the NHS and we will start redirecting people who could be there to go there when they turn up somewhere else.”
He said, as part of the NHS’s drive to employ clinical pharmacists in primary care networks, in the next year “potentially” there could be “a doubling of the number of pharmacists working in general practice.”
Waller added: “We need to be clear that pharmacists working in general practice with a remit to work across a network of primary care are going to relate to community pharmacy.”
He, however, clarified that all clinical pharmacists would not necessarily be working at GP practices. “It’s perfectly possible that a pharmacy or a group of pharmacies could act as a supplier of clinical pharmacist capacity as long as the capability requirements are met,” he said.
In his welcome address, Andrew Lane, the NPA vice chair and owner of the Alchem Pharmacy Group, spoke about partnerships and empowering of people to get the best use of their medicines.
The partnership between community pharmacists and NHS rests on a solid foundation of delivery, he said.
Lane also called for a fairer system that gives pharmacists a return on the investments they make and the risks they take.
However, he warned: “we go forward, or we go backwards, there can be no standing still,” before adding: “it’s clear that the current dire situation for pharmacies in England is totally unsustainable and we have to embrace change”.
Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, who couldn’t attend the conference, sent a video message to say: “community pharmacists are a vital part of NHS team.
“You already play an incredible role in preventing ailments, preventing minor ailments from becoming major problems, being the go-to place for many many people, supporting GPs, dispensing medicine safely, helping people live healthier lives. That’s what NHS is all about, and it’s at the core of what pharmacies are all about.”
He said the government “needs to draw on your expertise – and crucially, your invaluable human connection you have with the people you serve.”
Hancock’s deputy and Pharmacy Minister, Seema Kennedy, said: “I have seen and heard the calls from the sector that there is more community pharmacy could do to support patients with a wide range of health issues and concerns. And I am pleased to say that this is a view shared by government.”
She said the Department of Health and Social Care, along with NHS England and NHS Improvement “envisage a future for community pharmacy which involves the expansion of their role to help more people stay well.
“There is far more that community pharmacy could do,” the minister said, adding, the government would “continue the development work funded by the Pharmacy Integration Fund” to help pharmacy integrate into the primary care networks. However, she added, “it’s not about designing new services.”
“We want to see public confidence grow, confidence in using community pharmacy services with other parts of the NHS signposting people to them. This confidence is critical to the success of the extended role for community pharmacy and we are committed to supporting its development,” the minister explained.
She noted that she was “alert to the financial difficulties facing community pharmacy.”
Minister Kennedy said: “I am committed to working with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) to deliver a fair settlement for NHS services. The one which will enable us to deliver our long-term ambition of fully integrated primary, medical and community services, and also one that will help us to realise opportunities for efficiency and reward those pharmacies committed to delivering a wide range of health services and better quality.”
She told the delegates that her department was working with the PSNC to determine the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework settlement for 2019/20 and beyond. But she hopes to be able “to announce more detail very shortly.”
This report also appears in the July issue of Pharmacy Business