Almost a quarter of the pharmacy consultations received by patients free-of-charge over the past year have included advice and support related to Covid-19, the PSNC has estimated.

PSNC’s audit of 114,898 consultations found English community pharmacies are carrying out an average of 17 consultations a day, of which at least four were related to Covid-19.

The audit revealed that some 1.1 million informal consultations have taken place in community pharmacies in England every week, which totals to more than 58 million consultations per year.

Of these, 27,0000 (24%) are for patients seeking advice about Covid-19, suggesting that 14 million consultations were related to Covid.

Covid consultations took 20% longer on average to complete than non-Covid-19 consultations, said the pharmacy teams who responded to the audit.

The audit was carried out in 5,830 community pharmacies between January and February of this year to assess the support that the public has received from pharmacies through the pandemic, as well as to quantify the number of informal referrals to pharmacies being made by GPs and NHS 111.

Much like PSNC’s previous audit, the results from 2021 revealed that free pharmacy advice saves GPs over half a million appointments each week. The audit found that almost all of the patients attending the 1.1 million pharmacy consultations each week would have gone to GP if the pharmacist had not been available.

This means that pharmacies giving advice save more than 2 million GP appointments every month, or 24 million every year — 74 appointments for every single GP practice every week across the country — according to the PSNC’s calculations.

A&E services and NHS walk-in centres would also see a rise of 70,000 appointments per week — or 3.3 million if pharmacies did not provide this free advice to their patients, the PSNC said.

In a note on the summary findings, PSNC said that the audit, along with the previous audit in 2020, showed how ‘reliant patients in England are on the healthcare advice provided informally by community pharmacies’.

‘During Covid-19 pharmacies have maintained their open-door policy accepting face-to-face consultation for patients who need help and support.’

It added: ‘Clearly the additional burden on General Practice and other healthcare settings were this pharmacy advice to be taken away would not be manageable.’

Simon Dukes, PSNC’s chief executive thanked all those who took part in the audit, saying that the results ‘help showcase the incredible work that community pharmacies do every single day and the value that this brings to their patients’.

Also commenting on the findings, he added: ‘They also explore the Covid impact: the additional pressures this has brought for the workforce and the increasing reliance the public has had on pharmacy services during the pandemic.’

Marc Donovan, Boots UK’s chief pharmacist said: ‘PSNC’s audit provides some of the strongest evidence yet of the value of community pharmacies. The role of pharmacists is so much broader than dispensing medicine.

‘Today’s pharmacists also provide a range of clinical services like vaccinations and testing, give expert health advice and can prescribe some medicines as well. At Boots, we encourage people to think of our pharmacies as the first port of call if they are feeling unwell or have questions about their health.’

He added: ‘We believe that the right model could relieve pressure on primary healthcare and reduce patient wait times further, as well as help to secure the long term viability of our pharmacies.’