The health secretary wants to ‘propose solutions’ to issues with the Community Pharmacy Consultation Service (CPCS), following reports of little to no referrals in some parts of the country since its launch.

Responding to a question asked by the Pharmacist at a webinar hosted by Sigma Pharmaceuticals yesterday (23 June), Matt Hancock said he would like to hear more about the problems surrounding the CPCS, including why pharmacies might not be getting reimbursed properly through the service.

He said he does not currently have ‘an assessment of how serious’ the problems with the service are, but added that he is keen to propose solutions once he knows more.

The CPCS, which offers patients a consultation with a pharmacist for minor illnesses, has been taking referrals from NHS 111 since October 2019. It was extended to include referrals from GPs in November 2020, after a successful pilot.

However, since its launch, pharmacists have expressed concern that the service is flawed after receiving very few, and in some cases, no referrals from GPs.

According to NHS England, around 10% of online GP consultations could potentially be referred to pharmacies via the CPCS.

The health secretary went on to say that clinical services, like those offered under the CPCS, point to a ‘bright future’ for pharmacy for ‘more activity’ which is ‘better supported’.

Covid booster vaccine

The webinar, named 'Taking Pharmacy Forward’, discussed the new health bill, and members of the pharmacy press were invited to put questions to the secretary of state.

Mr Hancock was asked about the sector’s potential involvement in the Covid vaccine booster scheme, which could start as early as September alongside the annual flu vaccination programme.

In response, Mr Hancock said he was ‘looking for a big shift in the vaccination programme to delivery through pharmacies’.

At the time of writing, over 600 pharmacies in the country had been commissioned to administer vaccines; the majority of people are still being sent to mass vaccine centres, hospitals or GP practices.

But as many people and organisations – including GPs and hospitals, who are currently helping vaccinate the population – have to return to work, more focus may be put on pharmacies for the vaccine booster rollout, Mr Hancock suggested.

‘I expect us to move more of it to administration by pharmacies,’ he explained.

This comes as peer-reviewed research by Aston University suggested that community pharmacies could be key players in an annual rollout of the Covid vaccine.

Plans for this autumn’s booster jab programme will be released over the next few weeks.

Online pharmacies

Mr Hancock was also asked where online and distance selling pharmacies sat within his vision for the sector's future.

The health secretary said that online pharmacies had an ‘important role to play’, which he said had been further highlighted over the course of the pandemic.

‘It’s a different business model, and we have to make sure that the way policy works takes that into account,’ he added.

In December, the Pharmacist exclusively reported that Amazon Pharmacy had become a registered trademark in the UK, just months after receiving its trademark in the EU.