The NHS could save £640 million patients with minor ailments went directly to pharmacists instead of GPs, the pharmacy negotiator has said.

GPs have been able to refer patients with minor illnesses to the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) since November 2020.

However, few GP surgeries have signed up to the service and pharmacists are reporting very few referrals as a result.

According to PSNC estimates, a community pharmacy walk-in minor ailments service would save 40 million GP appointments – averaging 12 minutes each and therefore representing around eight million hours of GP time.

It said that pharmacies ‘already save an estimated 24 million GP appointments every year’, but that ’40 million more GP appointments could be transferred to pharmacies every year if patients with minor ailments were to use their pharmacy rather than their GP’.

A 2015 study showed 13% of GP appointments are for minor illnesses that ‘could be treated in pharmacies’ and with 312 million GP appointments in 2019, this indicates that around 40 million appointments could have been dealt with in community pharmacy, PSNC added.

The negotiator said the cost of funding the pharmacy walk-in service would be ‘far outweighed’ by the £640m annual saving the NHS would make.

Alistair Buxton, director of NHS services at PSNC said: 'The benefits of an enhanced pharmacy walk-in service to the public and to the NHS are clear, and we hope the NHS and Government will act on this.

'Increased investment in pharmacy in the short term will save NHS money in the long term, and also enable people with minor health conditions to access appropriate healthcare very conveniently.

'Pharmacies want to do more to help support the nation and NHS through this COVID recovery phase, and this service would be a great start in facilitating that', he added.

General practices in England were encouraged to sign up to the CPCS before 1 December if they wanted to access a £250m winter access fund. Despite this, pharmacists continue to report very low levels of referrals from GP.

Mr Buxton said that PSNC were aware of the 'huge amount of pressure' general practice was under and that pharmacies are 'keen to help them if they can do so'. 

He said: ‘Feedback from practices has been that while they support the intentions of the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS), referrals to it are burdensome for practice staff.’

We hope to find a way to remove the need for those referrals so that pharmacies can more efficiently support general practice and we are looking forward to discussing this further with general practice colleagues.’

NHS England previously said that around 10% of online GP consultations could potentially be referred to pharmacies via the CPCS.

An audit conducted by PSNC, published in May, revealed that pharmacies across England are providing around 1.1 million consultations every week without remuneration because patients were not formally referred through CPCS. 

In December NSHE said that GP practices were informally directing patients to community pharmacies, to help them prioritise the delivery of Covid booster vaccinations, instead of making a formal referral through the CPCS.