GPs have made just over 500 referrals to the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) in the first two weeks of being able to refer into the scheme.

The service, which offers patients a consultation with their local pharmacist for minor illnesses, previously only took referrals from NHS 111 but was extended to GPs on 1 November.

In response to a written question in parliament, primary care minister Jo Churchill, said that between 1 November and 17 November there were 516 referrals from GPs into the service.

She added: ‘NHS England and NHS Improvement advise that the NHS 111 service has made 235,309 referrals for minor illness assessment since the launch of the service in October 2019 up to 17 November 2020.’

A spokesperson for NHS England confirmed the figures were the latest available.

‘Gradual rollout’

Earlier this year, a pilot of GP referrals into the CPCS reported that it had helped to reduce demand and free up appointments, while enabling GPs to focus on more complex cases.

According to NHS England, over 4,000 pharmacy consultations were completed under the pilot scheme – which involved 35 practices in the South West - with 71% of patients receiving advice from a local pharmacist and an over the counter product to manage their concern.

Since the service was rolled out to all practices on 1 November, GPs have been able to choose whether they want to start referring patient to local pharmacies for a consultation.

PSNC said at the time that local agreements must be in place before GPs start doing so and that the agreements should involve discussions between pharmacy contractors, Primary Care Networks (PCNs) and their member practices, the NHS, and local pharmaceutical committees.

Alistair Buxton, PSNC’s director of services, said the commencement of GP referrals into the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service was ‘another key achievement in utilising pharmacists’ skills to provide patients with better access to healthcare expertise’.

He added: ‘While the rollout was always expected to be gradual due to the necessary local implementation planning, this figure shows that some GPs have already recognised the value of this service. We hope that this referral pathway will create a new foundation of collaboration between general practices and pharmacies, which can be built on in the years ahead.’

CPD workshops

Claire Anderson, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS) English Pharmacy Board, said: ‘The new GP CPCS presents a great opportunity for community pharmacists to demonstrate their clinical skills and we want general practice to utilise our profession further.

‘Covid-19 will have impacted on how patients are referred, so I recognise it will take time to see referrals increase. We are working with key partners to ensure there is a greater uptake in referrals from general practice into community pharmacy via GP CPCS and will support will be coming through the system to push this further.’

Last week, the RPS announced that it has partnered with Tesco to offer around pharmacists working in the supermarket chain’s pharmacies access to CPD workshops on the CPCS.

The workshops, which were launched in October for all community pharmacists working in England, support pharmacists to develop skills in patient-facing consultations and clinical assessments, so they are able to manage referrals from NHS 111 and GPs.

Under the agreement, around 600 Tesco pharmacists will be eligible for the programme from 2021, RPS said.