More than four in five patients have reported a good experience of using pharmacy services in England, according to a national survey.

NHS England’s annual GP Patient Survey results have been published today and for the first time include a section on pharmacy services.

Of the almost 700,000 people who responded, 87% said they had a good experience of pharmacy services in the last 12 months, including half who said their experience was ‘very good’. Less than 5% said their experience was ‘poor’.

The survey was carried out between 2 January and 25 March – during which Pharmacy First launched – and found the majority of patients (88%) reported using pharmacy services.

Patients most commonly reported picking up prescriptions (76%) or buying medication (45%) when asked which pharmacy services they had used in the last 12 months.

One in five (21%) said they had used a pharmacy for health advice or for a vaccination such as for flu or Covid-19.

Some 7% said they used a pharmacy to address an issue after being referred by their GP practice, NHS 111 or A&E.

Meanwhile, 3% said they went to a pharmacy to monitor their medication or for support for a long-term health condition and just 1% had used a pharmacy to get contraception without a GP prescription.

Just over one in 10 (12%) said they had not used any of these pharmacy services in the 12 months prior to the survey.

The survey is carried out by Ipsos on behalf of NHS England and is distributed to patients across England aged 16 and above.

The questions used were redeveloped this year to reflect changes across primary care.

Ipsos said in a report published last year that NHS England ‘were keen’ to measure the implementation of the new Pharmacy First service, which is part of the reason a new section on community pharmacy services was developed.

It added that questions had been included to cover the Pharmacy First scheme in a way that was ‘meaningful to patients’ who may not have yet used the service.

More widely, headline findings for GP practices within the survey showed that 74% of patients said their experience of their GP practice was good and 92% said they had confidence and trust in the healthcare professional they had seen at their last appointment.

When asked who their last appointment was with just 1.5% of patients said they had seen a pharmacist working in their GP practice, compared to 65% who had seen a GP and 22% who had seen a nurse.

Janet Morrison, chief executive of Community Pharmacy England, said the results indicated ‘there is room for more people to be making use’ of pharmacy services.

‘Pharmacy teams do much more than dispense prescriptions, and patients, GPs, and the wider NHS will all benefit if more people thought ‘Pharmacy First’.

‘This important new minor illness service is already reducing pressure on GP practices, but with only 7% of patients being referred to a pharmacy there is clearly more to do.’

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Independent Pharmacies Association, said she hoped the results were ‘viewed positively by our GP colleagues and has positive impact on referrals for the Pharmacy First scheme’.

‘The community pharmacy network is one of the most valued parts of the NHS by patients and this is consistent in all surveys conducted with patients and the public,’ she told The Pharmacist.

‘We know that if funded and supported appropriately our sector can be a big a solution for NHS challenges.’

She added: ‘Investing in community pharmacy saves taxpayers’ money. Patients are very happy using community pharmacy services and by having a robust referrals system to pharmacies GP practices can save a lot of time and resource.’

Paul Rees, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association, said: 'It is good to have this latest confirmation that people are highly satisfied with pharmacy services.

'Despite all the many pressures pharmacy teams face, they deliver a professional and convenient service that people value - and from which the rest of primary care benefits enormously.'

Tase Oputu, chair of Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, added: ‘These results underline how pharmacists are central to supporting patient access to primary care and show just how important it is for the government and NHS to work across the system to ensure that initiatives such as Pharmacy First can make a real difference for patients.’