The very nature of the community pharmacist consultation service (CPCS) is unpredictable, with the distribution of NHS 111 referrals meaning some pharmacies are seeing very few patients compared with others.

The service, which was launched last October, has seen 10,600 out of 11,600 pharmacies across England sign up as of 13 January. Pharmacists are paid £14 for each same-day consultation resulting from an NHS 111 referral for minor illnesses or urgent prescriptions. And overall, the service has been well-received by the public and pharmacists. 

However, a discussion at last week's (23 January) Association if Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp) meeting revealed that some pharmacists are feeling this service results in an inconsistent number of referrals. This is causing concern among pharmacists because of potential financial losses and the inability to predict patient volume. 

‘I don’t think there is any other way of operating this model,’ NHS director Ed Waller told delegates, ‘other than letting the patients choose which pharmacy they want to go to [after a 111 referral].’ 

A whole range of factors can influence which pharmacy a patient chooses to go to, this can be based on location, opening hours or the fact they receive a good treatment at that pharmacy previously. But how can you ensure your pharmacy doesn’t lose out?

Plan ahead

Mr Waller suggested pharmacists should be prepared and plan ahead so as to get a better idea of how many referrals they are going to receive. 

‘There are some things you can’t predict and plan for,’ he explained. As in other areas of the NHS, the number of patients you get from day to day varies. 

However, with a lot of the services pharmacies are providing, such as cardiovascular disease detection, it's possible to get an estimate of the number of patients you could be receiving. To do this, Mr Waller suggested pharmacies ‘get in touch with providers, other pharmacies and patients’. 

Proactively offer services 

Another way to engage with patients and build up the number using your services is to approach patients who enter your surgery, explained Mr Waller. 

Make them aware of the services you offer, so if they ever do call 111 for a referral, they are more likely to choose your pharmacy. 

Engage with your PCN

This is a very new system, so can be changed and influenced by you, explained advanced nurse practitioner and clinical director of Doncaster South primary care network (PCN), Benjamin Scott. 

‘Engage with your PCN and engaged to help them structure the system. Also, give positive feedback wherever possible. If you guys don't immerse yourself into it, then nothing really will come with it.’ 

‘Until these fluid systems are in place you’re not going to get what you want.’ 

Don’t lose heart!

According to Mr Waller, there is a need to accept that this the ‘first part’ of a system, ‘that we hope to expand’. 

‘It isn't going to be a case of the switch clicks overnight and suddenly millions of people [are] flocking to community pharmacy because that's just not how the world is ever going to work.’ 

‘I think it will build. And I hope we can build it at a good pace, and we will need your help to make sure that happens as fast as it can because we all have an interest in that being true. 

‘But I don't want you to lose heart just because the pace isn't what you hoped it would be.’