GP referrals to Pharmacy First have led to 8,400 consultations in North East London so far, a pharmacy leader in the area has said.

Community Pharmacy North East London chief executive Shilpa Shah also revealed that a scheme to supply over-the-counter medicines free of charge to low income people in the area has now been approved.

Speaking to delegates at the 2024 Sigma conference, Ms Shah outlined how the Local Pharmaceutical Committee (LPC) had worked with general practices in the area to increase referrals.

She emphasised that if community pharmacies engage with their LPC, it can be their ‘voice’ within the local integrated care system [ICS].

‘We really are your voice and we need to share that with system partners so that we can really support the local population,’ Ms Shah told contractors.

‘The LPC – community pharmacy – really needs to help ICBs understand the role that they play in the primary care arena.’

Community pharmacy can work with other healthcare providers within a local ‘place’ – a hyper-local area – to create collaborative approaches to healthcare, Ms Shah suggested.

In North East London, the LPC had talked to the ICS about funding primary care network (PCN) community pharmacist leads, who work with pharmacies and GP surgeries across the local PCN to ensure everyone is working together.

Speaking to conference delegates yesterday (28 February), Ms Shah said that community pharmacies in North East London had delivered 8,400 Pharmacy First consultations so far from GP referrals alone, excluding patient walk-ins.

To achieve this, the LPC had explained to the ICS ‘the role that community pharmacy can play in reducing the workload of our stakeholder partners and the NHS system in general’, Ms Shah said.

In addition, the ICS had put IT systems in place to make it easy for GP surgeries to refer to Pharmacy First with an integrated one-click button – with a plug-in device for community pharmacies that flashes when a patient is referred, she said.

‘But most importantly, they have paid for us to be able to employ staff that can go into every single GP surgery and every single pharmacy and explain the service to our GP colleagues, to troubleshoot when there's issues, to work with pharmacies that aren't able to maybe manage their workload for the day to make sure that these referrals are getting done. And that's the reason that we're getting the results that we get.’

Ms Shah added: ‘That costs money. Our ICS is in a deficit of £70m. They can see the benefit in spending for some of these services that we deliver, because that will stop people going to A&E, that will stop people going to urgent treatment centres.’

And she said that the ICS had also invested in the community pharmacy hypertension service and the oral contraception service.

‘It’s about having that voice,’ she said, noting that the LPC had also spoken to the ICS about issues like pharmacy closures.

‘The core funding is not there. The [national] contract isn't fit for purpose at the moment,’ Ms Shah added.

But she encouraged contractors to get involved with their LPC and make their case for funding on a local level.

‘We need to keep moving forward whilst we look at our leadership bodies to help fight the case with the Department of Health on how they're going to fix the foundations, but it doesn't mean that we have to stop building.’

Ms Shah also reported how the LPC was working to create locally commissioned services, highlighting how community pharmacies could spot and respond to local need.

‘If there's something that you can see that your residents need in your area then talk to your LPC because we can be innovative and we can really work on a service and we can put a business case together on why that service is going to be beneficial to the community and to the system as a whole,’ Ms Shah said.

She highlighted one local service which The Pharmacist reported on in May that has now been approved.

In July 2022 the LPC had taken the new chief medical officer for the ICS to visit community pharmacies, she noted.

‘He was astounded at what response community pharmacies can offer and what they can do. And he said: "if there was one thing that we could do, what would it be?"

‘So we explained the background and CPCs [the Community Pharmacy Consultation Scheme]. The issue that we were having with CPCS is people were coming in community pharmacies in the areas that we live in [which are] quite deprived, so they couldn't afford any over the counter medication.’

The LPC proposed a self-care scheme to make over-the-counter medications free from a pharmacy to low income patients.

‘This was eventually signed off in November 2023’, Ms Shah. ‘Sometimes you've got to play the long game.’