Pharmacy bodies are disappointed with the British Medical Association’s (BMA) decision to advise GPs ‘not to engage’ with NHS England’s access plan. 

Yesterday (19 October), The Pharmacist’s sister publication, Pulse, exclusively reported that an email had been sent to practices, in which GP committee chair, Dr Richard Vautrey, said that ‘at this time, we would advise GPs and practices not to engage in this punitive and damaging plan’. 

Pharmacy bodies have spoken out against the BMA’s suggestion, concerned about the negative financial impact that GPs refusing to engage with the plan could have on the pharmacy sector.  

As part of the NHS England's access plan, general practices in England have been encouraged to sign up to the community pharmacy consultation service (CPCS) before 1 December if they want to access a £250m winter fund. 

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive officer of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) told The Pharmacist it was ‘very sad’ to hear that the BMA’s GP Committee has advised GPs to dismiss the NHS England’s access plan. 

‘We are deeply disappointed that pharmacies will now suffer another financial impact from continued delays to the implementation of CPCS,’ she said.  

However, she added: ‘We respect the decision by BMA to do what they, as a representative body see, is appropriate for their members.  

‘The latest crisis facing primary care only illustrates that it is time to resurrect a comprehensive minor ailment scheme through community pharmacy. This would greatly alleviate the pressures on our GP colleagues and buy primary care precious time to rebuild capacity.’ 

Andrew Lane, chair of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) added that it would be a 'great shame if [the CPCS] became collateral damage from a wider quarrel about access to general practice’. 

‘Whatever is happening in terms of broad NHS strategy, it’s important that health care practitioners on the ground - including pharmacists and GPs – continue to work together in the interests of patients,’ he said.. 

‘CPCS is convenient for patients, frees up GP appointments and makes good use of community pharmacists’ skills to handle minor illnesses.’ 

According to NHS England, just 800 of the 6,822 GP practices in England are signed up to the service. This means only 12% of GP practices in England have enrolled in the service since it began in 2019. 

In contrast, more than 90% (91%) of community pharmacies had signed up to deliver the CPCS as of XXX: 10,610 out of the 11,600 registered in England, according to data from PSNC. 

Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at PSNC, said: ‘Patients and general practices will benefit from proper referrals being made by practices to the CPCS. 

‘We recommend that CCGs and ICS’ use the Winter Access Fund to commission services to augment the CPCS, such as patient group directions, which are already being used successfully in several areas of the country to increase access to treatment, without the need to refer patients back to their GP.’  

He added: ‘The sector wants to help patients, general practices and the NHS as a whole, but additional work needs to be matched with extra funding.’  

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

Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS) English Pharmacy Board, said: ‘Encouraging more GP practices to engage with CPCS is an important step, but our roundtable also highlighted the importance of developing a more streamlined referral process, ensuring a good experience for patients, raising awareness among wider healthcare teams, and national support for implementation.’