The GP arm of the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service may be updated or replaced with a service model that relies less on referrals from general practice, health secretary Sajid Javid has said.
Mr Javid today announced a new £250m winter access fund to help GP surgeries “improve availability” to patients using the services of locum workers and health professionals such as physiotherapists.
He said the new plan “provides general practice teams with investment and targeted support… this will tackle underperformance, taking pressure off staff so they can spend more time with patients and increase the number of face-to-face appointments”.
Writing for the Daily Mail, Mr Javid urged all GP surgeries to sign up to the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service by the beginning of December, saying only around 800 practices have so far signed up.
Arguing that enhanced use of the CPCS could help GPs share more of their minor ailments workload with pharmacies, he also speculated that the service could eventually either be updated or replaced with one closer to Scotland’s Pharmacy First model, which bypasses general practice to a greater extent and allows pharmacists to prescribe for a range of common conditions.
Mr Javid wrote: "I’m asking my department to work with the NHS and look at a “Pharmacy First” scheme for England, so pharmacists can provide treatment for specific conditions like sore throats, without patients having to go to their GP, building on pilot schemes in England and much as they already do in Scotland."
The DHSC said that under the new winter access package patients will “be able to see different types of clinicians in general practice who can best meet their needs and conditions, including pharmacists, paramedics, advanced nurse practitioners and nursing associates”.
“NHS England will also work with the government to consider how far and fast the role of pharmacists can be increased in the supply of medication, as part of relieving workload on GPs.”
Commenting on the funding announcement, PSNC vice chair Bharat Patel said pharmacies “already do a huge amount to reduce pressure on GP practices… [particularly] during the Covid-19 pandemic when pharmacies’ doors remained open as normal”.
“It is good very news that the Secretary of State shares our ambition to get every GP practice using the CPCS; we have been pressing for GPs to be further incentivised to make use of the service for many months,” said Mr Patel.
“But all of this comes with a caveat,” he added, describing the “huge financial and emotional cost” borne by contractors during the pandemic and stressing that any extra work done by pharmacies “needs to be matched with extra support”.
PSNC’s services director Alastair Buxton added: “CCGs and Integrated Care Structures should use the winter access fund to commission additional local services from community pharmacy, including services to augment the CPCS such as patient group directions.”
English pharmacy board chair Thorrun Govind said: “Today’s announcement highlights the importance of services like the CPCS and boosting its uptake to support patients, the NHS and GPs.
“Community pharmacy will be central to supporting the NHS recovery, including through increasing use of pharmacist independent prescribers and commissioning innovative services to enhance patient care, safety and better manage demand across the NHS.
“Funding for implementation, education and training will be key to making this a success and I look forward to working with Government and the NHS to make this happen.”