NHS England and pharmacy leaders have urged GPs to work better with community pharmacy to improve patient outcomes. 

Speaking at the NPA conference yesterday (8 July), Ed Waller, director for primary care strategy and NHS contracts at NHS England, said GPs ‘haven't always been able to understand exactly what's on offer from community pharmacy and to connect with it in the right way’. 

Practices must collaborate with pharmacies to make the most of NHS services and ensure patients are directed to the right care pathway, he added.  

Mr Waller said: ‘I want to continue to emphasise that we really want to see community pharmacy a more and more integrated part of every PCN. I know that is working better in some places than others.  

‘I've heard some really encouraging examples of how community pharmacy and general practice have worked together on Covid vaccinations, on flu vaccinations, on management of various conditions, and I know that in other places the relationship isn't as well developed.  

‘For things like the GP referral route through to CPCS [community pharmacy consultation service] to work well, I think it all hinges on those relationships at local level. 

This comes as the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) called for a primary care roundtable to build bridges between practices and community pharmacy, in response to ‘disparaging comments’ in a column published by The Pharmacist’s sister title, Pulse.  

In an open letter, Thorrun Govind, chair of the RPS England board, wrote: ‘As a profession, we often face disparaging comments which ignore the important role we play in patients’ lives. 

‘There are huge benefits for collaboration between general practice and community pharmacy. By working more closely together we can improve access to primary care by supporting patients who require advice and treatment for certain minor illness conditions in the pharmacy. 

‘We share so many of the same objectives with general practitioners and I know we will be stronger if we work together.  

‘To make this a reality, I am proposing a roundtable with RPS, RCGP and other Royal Colleges. The focus will be on primary care, discussing how we can better work together as we emerge from Covid.’ 

Interoperability needed to unlock potential 

Presenting in the NPA conference session ‘How community pharmacy fits into NHS strategy’, Mr Waller noted the ‘incredibly successful implementation of CPCS referrals from 111’, reporting that it has directed more than 400,000 people to community pharmacies since the service was launched.  

But, buy-in is needed from general practice to replicate that success across primary care, he said.  

‘They haven't always been able to understand exactly what's on offer from community pharmacy and to connect with it in the right way,’ Mr Waller commented. 

‘We are working with general practice to make sure GP surgeries are understanding that service and starting to refer through it to community pharmacies.  

‘I know you'll be doing that locally with your GP teams, but what more can we do, to build that in as a fundamental and standard part of the way we direct people to the right place for their needs in primary care.’ 

The NHS must ‘optimise things like access to care records to support clinical service delivery’, Mr Waller said, adding that technology and interoperability of systems is crucial to ‘unlock GP to pharmacy referrals’.  

Calls from both NHSE/I and the RPS for co-operation between community pharmacy and general practice come amid a period of hostility among the sectors.  

Earlier this week, Boots CEO Sebastian James apologised for saying ‘primary care had really, more or less, disappeared’ during the Covid pandemic. GP bodies called the comments ‘unfair’ and ‘insulting’.  

Pharmacists were then forced to defend their profession after Pulse’s provocative opinion piece labelled them ‘incongruous’ and ‘redundant’, and said community pharmacists could do their job ‘with a cupboard, a car and a grade C in maths’.