Patients with low acuity conditions dialling NHS 111 can now be referred to over 600community pharmacies in the North East of England.

The Community Pharmacy Referral Service (CPRS) pilot enables patients seeking advice and treatment on rashes, constipation, diarrhoea, vaginal discharge, sore eye, mouth ulcer, failed contraception, vomiting, scabies and ear wax to visit 618 pharmacies across Durham, Darlington, Tees, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear.

‘Important part’

Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said that ‘management of minor conditions has always been an important part of the community pharmacy service’.

He said: ‘The service aligns well with the NHS Five Year Forward View and NHS England’s current priorities, including moving care closer to home, ‘channel shifting’ and promoting self-care’.

Launching last week (4 December), the scheme is meant to ‘increase capacity and relieve pressure’ on emergency care services.

Increasing referrals to pharmacy

Through NHS 111, pharmacies can already provide the NHS Urgent Medicines Supply Advanced Service (NUMSAS) pilot to patients.

In October 2016 and February 2017, two workshops in the North East of England identified opportunities to increase the number of referrals from NHS 111 to pharmacy.

They identified a potential to increase current pharmacy referrals from 0.1% of referrals to 10%, which represents 35,000 referrals a year in that part of the country.

Mr Buxton said: ‘The pilot should demonstrate how the community pharmacy network can be effectively used as part of the NHS urgent care system and it will hopefully build the case for a similar approach to be taken across the whole of England.’

How does it work?

When at the pharmacy, patients receive a face-to-face consultation and self-care advice on the management of their condition.

If treatment is needed, it can either be sold by the pharmacist or delivered through a ‘locally commissioned minor ailments scheme’.

But if the patient’s condition or symptom is urgent and can’t be dealt with by the pharmacist, or requires further investigation, the pharmacist will direct the patient to a ‘more appropriate care setting’, such as the patient’s general practice’.

The service will run until 31 March 2018.