Community pharmacists are calling on NHS England to provide proper funding for pharmacy consultations, to help reduce the burden on other parts of the NHS and improve patient care.

The comments come after an audit from the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) revealed that pharmacies across England are providing around 1.1 million consultations every week, without remuneration – and after a BBC report published on the same day (27 May) warned that rising patient numbers and a shortage of GPs were threatening to overwhelm the system.

Commenting on the PSNC findings, Mike Hewitson, superintendent pharmacist at Beaminster Pharmacy in Dorset, said that ‘the NHS should be ashamed of itself’.

He added that although he wanted to help his local GP colleagues, ‘there is only so much’ that pharmacists can do in one day with what little they’ve been given.

‘There are over 11,000 pharmacies in England which should be utilised to offer care, however, without the funds how can the NHS expect them to do it?,’ he said.

He also warned that if pharmacies are forced to close due to lack of funds ‘it’s GPs who will suffer’.

‘We are all part of the same system and ultimately, GPs cannot take on more workload and at the same time you can’t expect pharmacists to deliver that level of unfunded care indefinite

Help more patients and GPs

Meanwhile, Derby pharmacist, Nick Payne, told the Pharmacist that the PSNC audit really ‘proves’ what pharmacists have known all along: ‘that we are doing a lot of work for the NHS and are just not being paid for it’.

However, Mr Payne, said he believed that if pharmacy consultations were paid for by the NHS, pharmacies could provide a better service which in turn would reduce GP workload.

‘If we were properly paid for these consultations, we could run the service properly with funding and we would be in a much better position to help a lot more people than we are helping at the moment – and this would help GPs in the long run,’ he said.

The Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) – which was extended to take referrals from GPs last November – is likely seen as part of the solution, with pharmacists picking up more minor ailments consultations and taking this workload away from GPs. But some pharmacists have said they are yet to reap the benefits of this.

Sunil Kochhar, a consultant pharmacist and IP at Regent Pharmacy in Gravesend, Kent, told the Pharmacist that he has had ‘very few’ referrals to his pharmacy and expressed concern that the service was flawed.

‘You would expect an NHS funded service would push a higher traffic of people into community pharmacies,’ he said.

But instead, Mr Kochhar believes patients are bypassing the formal system, which means pharmacies are not getting paid for the work they do.

‘Once a patient has been referred by their GP to the community pharmacy once, next time they will just go straight to their pharmacy instead,’ he explained.

‘The [PSNC] audit showed that there is an awful lot not being seen by the NHS of what community pharmacy is delivering and the impact we have on the community.’

Both Mr Hewiston and Mr Kochhar called for a self-referral system to be put in place so that pharmacists can be remunerated for their work.

‘This would mean that pharmacists get paid for their work and that they do not have to rely on referrals. We could also provide a triage system to ensure GP appointments are only given to those who need it,’ said Mr Kochhar.

Mr Payne added that giving pharmacies more responsibility when it comes to consultations would save the NHS money.

‘Pharmacies could be providing a service to look after patients in the community for far less money than GPs, ultimately saving the NHS money. Instead, the NHS continues to refuse to pay pharmacy properly, it won’t even cover our Covid costs.’