Pharmacy chiefs have called on the Government to pilot a radical NHS system, known as NHS Gateway, which they believe would provide a ‘better pathway’ for patients and GPs to use the community pharmacy consultation service (CPCS).


The new pathway was proposed in a report by UK think tank, Policy Exchange, as a way of reforming the way in which patients access their GP.


The authors of the report, named At Your Service, proposed that NHS Gateway would work as an online central hub that would help feed patients directly to the appropriate primary care service by allowing them to self-triage.


Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), said the integrated IT solution could be key to improving the CPCS, which continues to see few referrals from general practice.


‘We believe [NHS Gateway] would provide a better pathway for both community pharmacy and GP practices but most importantly for patients,’ she said.


She said the current CPCS pathway, in which a patient must contact their GP before being referred to the pharmacist, is ‘archaic’.


‘Surely the long-term solution is to allow pharmacies to offer such appointments directly to the patient,’ she added.


The authors of the proposals said that NHS Gateway would reduce GP workload as patients would be automatically sent down other primary care routes without the need for referral.


As of October 2021, only 862 GP practices were referring to community pharmacists under this service.


In contrast, 91% of community pharmacies had signed up to deliver the CPCS, 10,610 of the 11,600 registered pharmacies in England as of last year, according to data from PSNC.


Since then, GPs have been financially incentivized to sign up for the service, but contractors have said the number of referrals from GP practices to community pharmacies continues to be low.


‘GP practices are not engaging because of time constraints and the worry that the service adds more work to the already stretched practices rather than reducing the workload – it is unlikely that the referrals from GP practices will increase in the future because of the increasing workload in practices,’ Dr Hannbeck explained.


She said that she believed NHS Gateway would provide a ‘better pathway for both community pharmacy and GP practices but most importantly for patients’.


‘We are asking that this system is piloted with the view to offer a way forward,’ she added.


In November, health bodies called for the role of community pharmacists should be expanded to include the supply of certain prescription-only medicines to improve the CPCS.


According to NHSE&I, around 10% of online GP consultations could potentially be referred to pharmacies via the CPCS.


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