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The community pharmacy referral scheme is a new way to make the most of pharmacists' skills

In response to the editorial ‘Community pharmacy referral scheme is not a new concept’ — which suggested that the NHS community pharmacist consultation service (CPCS) is ‘recycled’ from previous minor ailment schemes — it may be helpful to clarify what the service offers in terms of unique provision and to highlight some fundamental differences between minor ailment schemes and the new service.

The CPCS is aimed at integrating pharmacy further into the NHS’s national urgent care system consistently across England, making the most of pharmacists’ clinical skills with a clear repositioning of pharmacy in society

Through the service, patients receive a booked clinical assessment in a consultation room with a pharmacist, who is alerted via a digital ‘Interoperability Toolkit’ message from the NHS 111 system. In contrast, many minor ailment schemes involve an over-the-counter discussion and do not have to incorporate a clinical consultation with a pharmacist.

Additionally, the provision of urgent prescribed medicines through the CPCS supports the ongoing care of people with long-term conditions and alleviates requests to GP surgeries. There are also examples of how the service has been used to help people who have forgotten or have run out of their prescribed medication and are away from their home area.

Importantly, the CPCS is coordinated with the patient’s GP as part of an integrated urgent care approach, meaning the patient care record is updated and, in relevant cases, the pharmacist notifies the GP of any consultation outcome, including prescribed medicines supplied and follow-up.

To deliver the service, pharmacists have been offered specific additional training and the wider pharmacy team should also be involved in sharing learning to inform development of the service.

Our aim is to further unlock the potential of community pharmacists to carry out more consultations and treat a greater number of patients, working closely with GPs and others. We are engaging with an increasing number of colleagues and partners to help shape this in a way that is most meaningful and useful to clinicians and patients.

Right now, we’re piloting expanding the CPCS to include referrals from GP surgeries, using what we are learning from 74 practices around the country that are already involved in doing this.

The current rollout of the NHS 111 online CPCS is also providing patients with an additional route to access urgent repeat medication; something completely new and innovative, which is helping to alleviate pressure on other parts of the primary care system.

Our ultimate aim remains to increase the range of conditions that the CPCS can deal with and ensure that doctors, pharmacists and others can work together to provide more convenient, high-quality care closer to people’s homes.


Bruce Warner, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer, NHS England and NHS Improvement

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20207643

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