Recognising the role of community pharmacy in urgent care

From Tuesday 29th October, community pharmacies in England will start receiving NHS 111 referrals as part of the new NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS). The service forms part of the recently negotiated Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) which aims to expand clinical service delivery through pharmacies over the next five years.

Our head of services, Anna Ruthven shares her thoughts on how the CPCS will work and what it means for both patients and community pharmacies.

When we’re feeling under the weather, all too often our first thought is to visit a GP or walk-in centre. Now, when patients call NHS 111 with a minor illness or need for an urgent supply of medication, they can be connected directly with their nearest community pharmacy.

The CPCS offers an exciting opportunity for our LloydsPharmacy stores to play a significant role this winter as an integral part of the NHS urgent care system. We believe community pharmacy can relieve pressure on an overstretched NHS and reduce waiting times for GP appointments and at A&Es.

We’re aware that our customers are constantly seeking ways to make managing their health easier. The new service offers patients greater accessibility and convenience, but there’s work to be done to help people understand what pharmacy can do for them. To enable the sector to deliver the ambitions set out within the NHS Long Term Plan, we need to educate the general public and change their thought-process when it comes to seeking medical advice.

As a business, we have thousands of accessible professionals, ready and waiting to provide expert care, but currently these pharmacists aren’t as recognised for their clinical expertise as they should be. Our pharmacists are highly qualified healthcare experts, capable of dealing with minor illnesses. We need to increase the awareness and understanding of this, help build trusting relationships and make our community pharmacies a first port of call.

The introduction of the service coincides with Public Health England’s ‘Help Us, Help You’ winter pressures campaign which aims to increase peoples’ understanding of the actions they can personally better manage their health. If the general public can start thinking ‘pharmacist first’ it will ease the burden on wider NHS services, freeing up time for doctors to focus on more complex health needs.

However, it’s not just about educating the general public it’s also about supporting our pharmacists with the roll-out of the CPCS. As ever, the success of this service relies on having a dedicated and passionate community pharmacy team. Delivering increased clinical services expands the role of community pharmacy and it’s important our pharmacists are appropriately prepared.

Using pharmacists’ clinical skills to tackle challenges facing the NHS is a huge step toward community pharmacy being recognised as a truly integrated partner. The successful delivery of the CPCS will demonstrate the value community pharmacy can bring to patients and elevate the general public’s perception of pharmacists.

This first phase of the service involves NHS 111 advisors referring suitable patients to community pharmacy. The second phase, which is still being piloted, is looking how the service can be extended to make it possible for GP surgeries to also make referrals. It’s expected to free up more than 20,000,000 GP appointments meaning better access to care and a better experience for patients, which is ultimately our primary focus.