The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has asked contractors to carry out an audit to help identify how many informal GP and NHS 111 referrals are taking place in community pharmacies across England.

The negotiating body will ask pharmacies to complete an audit on a single day next week, commencing Monday 25 January.

The nationwide audit will calculate how many unpaid consultations community pharmacy staff provide to the public.

This comes after PSNC received reports that GP teams and NHS 111 continue to refer patients to pharmacies for consultations informally by circumventing the agreed Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) route.

As it stands, patient consultations are not officially recorded like referrals via the CPCS.

Richard Brown, a pharmacist and chief officer for Avon LPC explained concerns that informal referrals run the risk of allowing patients to ‘slip through the cracks’.

‘If 111 or GP’s surgeries refer patients informally and the patient never presents in the pharmacy, then nobody ever knows about that patient and they may go without,’ he said.

‘It’s important that the NHS recognises that sort of formal referral is required,’ he added.

The audit will also capture the impact Covid-19 is having on pharmacy teams more generally.

All of the information acquired will help support the organisation’s ongoing funding negotiations with the government.

The last PSNC pharmacy audit - conducted in June and July 2020 - found pharmacies were carrying out an average of 15 consultations a day, which equated to over a million a week.

Half (49%) of patients attending the pharmacy consultations reported they would have otherwise gone to see their GP if the pharmacist had not been available.

If this proportion of patients sought advice from their GP instead, it would result in an extra 492,000 GP appointments – or 65 appointments per GP practice in England – per week, according to the PSNC’s calculations.