Removing advice provided by community pharmacists would leave GPs facing an extra 492,000 appointments each week, the PSNC has predicted.

The PSNC audit of 198,043 consultations found pharmacies are carrying out an average of 15 consultations a day, which equates to over a million a week across all 11,200 English community pharmacies.

Half (49%) of patients attending the pharmacy consultations reported they would have otherwise gone to see their GP if the pharmacist had not been available.

If this proportion of patients sought advice from their GP instead, it would result in an extra 492,000 GP appointments – or 65 appointments per GP practice in England – per week, according to the PSNC’s calculations.

A&E services would also see a rise of 57,000 appointments per week if pharmacies did not provide this free advice to their patients, the PSNC said.

‘Insufficient funding’

In June and July 2020 more than 9,400 pharmacies in England took part in the PSNC’s audit, which aimed to collect data on how many consultations were happening in community pharmacy to support the organisation’s ongoing funding negotiations with the government.

The results revealed that an average pharmacy is spending around 75 minutes per day providing free consultations to patients.

Of the 198,043 consultations audited, 92% resulted in advice being given by the pharmacy team and of those, 49% led to the sale of a medication.

Based on the findings, the PSNC estimated that during an average week across all English pharmacies over 600,000 consultations are carried out to respond to patients’ symptoms, while nearly 185,000 consultations are carried out where pharmacies give patients support for a known medical condition.

In a briefing note on the audit report, PSNC said: ‘While some funding is provided for pharmacies for supporting people with ‘self-care’ through the community pharmacy contractual framework (CPCF), we believe this is no longer sufficient to cover the considerable costs of this increasingly important part of pharmacies’ work.

‘Furthermore, this funding is distributed on a prescription volume-related basis, while this audit shows there is no correlation between prescription volumes and the number of advice consultations that pharmacies are carrying out.’

‘Accessible healthcare advice’

Simon Dukes, PSNC chief executive, said: Thank you to all the community pharmacies in England who took part in this national audit. This was an important study providing a snapshot of just one element of the critical work that is going on in pharmacies at the moment, and it has given us some incredibly useful data.

‘The audit results confirm just how many people value and rely on the accessible healthcare advice that is available from their local community pharmacies. They also show what the impact could be on GPs and hospitals if that pharmacy advice were taken away: it simply would not be manageable for them.'

He added: ‘Importantly for the sector, the findings start to quantify some of the work that pharmacies are doing that we do not believe is now adequately funded by the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) – this is all part of our case to HM Government for an uplift in that funding.’

Claire Anderson, chair of the English Pharmacy Board, said: ‘Pharmacy will continue to play a central role in delivering NHS ambitions for the future. They have remained open throughout COVID-19 and the resilience of pharmacy teams demonstrates how valuable our profession is to our health service, taking considerable amounts of pressure off the NHS.

‘With huge pressures elsewhere, pharmacy consultations are vital in ensuring access to patient care and they need to be fully integrated across other NHS services.’

She added ‘We are calling on the government to back pharmacists and their teams with fair funding to ensure that they are able to give the best possible care to patients. The increase in demand for pharmacy services shows that our profession deserves to be properly resourced.’

Last month, the Pharmacist reported that PSNC has written to the Government requesting an urgent uplift to the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) funding.

Meanwhile, PSNC has advised contractors against providing patients with free blood pressure checks and other free-of-charge provisions that fall outside the CPCF.