Cornwall Local Pharmacy Committee (LPC) leaders have highlighted the success of its locally commissioned Pharmacy First service, as health and social care secretary Steve Barclay looks at creating a national service across England.

In data shared with The Pharmacist, the LPC said that its Walk In Consultation Service (WICS) had saved 4,000 GP appointments and 70 visits to A&E over a period of 10 months.

Asked at the end of the consultation where they would have presented if the WICS had not been available, 82% of patients said they would have attended a GP or a GP out-of-hours service, while 8% would have phoned 111, 9% would have gone without and 1% would have ended up in A&E.

This comes after the Cornwall LPC said in a tweet this month that it had reached out to Cornwall MP Steve Double, who has previously championed the service, to offer support to the health and secretary by sharing its experience with its WICS.

Earlier this month, the Mr Barclay Secretary said that he is ‘looking at how we can progress Pharmacy First’, as part of a plan to reduce pressure on general practice.

The data also showed that over 5,500 walk-in consultations were delivered by community pharmacies in Cornwall over the 10 month period.

In 50% of cases, pharmacists were able to give advice and sell the patient a medicine and, in 12% of cases, they were able to refer the patient to a local service administered under a Patient Group Direction (PGDs).

In Cornwall, community pharmacies deliver 3,000 treatments per annum under PGDs, including for urinary tract infections (UTIs), migraine, thrush, impetigo and infected eyes.

Some of the most common ailments that patients presented at the walk-in service with were skin problems and rashes (957 cases), UTIs (576), sticky, watery (301) or irritable eyes (257) and insect bites and stings (184).

The WICS scheme in Cornwall began in December 2021 as a short-term project, and was since re-commissioned by Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group.

Pharmacies that choose to participate pay a joining fee of £100 and are then paid £14 per consultation, plus the PGD fee for administering treatment if relevant.

The consultation fee is the same as pharmacies would receive for a consultation under the Community Pharmacy Consultation Scheme (CPCS), but removes the need for a GP referral.

Drew Creek, operations manager for the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly LPC, said that the WICS service frees up GP staff time and opens up GP appointments, ‘allowing them to focus on more complex conditions’.

He said that if a similar service was commissioned across England, it ‘could save over half a million low acuity GP appointments across the UK, based on our data in Cornwall, as well as potentially thousands of unnecessary A&E visits’.

‘We are fully committed to supporting the health secretary Steve Barclay in commissioning this across England’, he added.

He said that commissioning this service, ‘with an at least parity uplift to basic Pharmacy spend’ to bring it back up to 2015 levels of 2.4% of NHS spend, rather than the 1.6% it is currently, would ‘ensure community pharmacies are properly funded and able to support patients in their locality providing true personalised patient care.’

In October, the Cornwall LPC met with local MP Steve Double to share an update on the service.

Following the meeting, Mr Double called for a parliamentary debate about the value of community pharmacy and how it can be funded.

In a Facebook post this week, Mr Double said that he was ‘delighted to hear the Health Secretary is exploring ways to progress the Pharmacy First scheme.

He added that ‘the feedback from constituents on the provision of walk-in services by community pharmacies in Cornwall earlier this year has been hugely positive’.

‘I look forward to working with the Government to maximise the services of our community pharmacies,’ he said.

Data released last week found that GPs across England delivered a total of 14.2 million appointments last month.

A new practice-level dataset was also published for the first time, showing how many appointments each GP practice is offering and the waiting times for these.

NHS England has previously said that while it is ‘reasonable’ for patients to expect to see a GP within two weeks, delivering this is currently impossible.

The number of fully-qualified full-time equivalent GPs has fallen by nearly 1,900 since September 2015 and by 713 since 2019, according to NHS Digital GP workforce figures, also published last week.

Since its launch three years ago, CPCS has had mixed success, with questions remaining over its efficiency and whether it is reducing workload for all GPs.