Over 1200 patients have been seen by pharmacists rather than in hospitals and urgent care centres in the north east this winter. Patients who called NHS 111 with less serious illnesses and injuries are being seen in private pharmacy consultation rooms rather than urgent care centres.

NHS England has commissioned the Digital Minor Illness Referral - Community Pharmacy Referral Service (CPRS),  a six month trial scheme allowing NHS 111 operators to refer appropriate non-emergency patients to community pharmacies.

The scheme is funded by NHS England’s Pharmacy Integration Fund supporting the transformation of pharmacy to improve the quality of services for the public as outlined in the Five Year Forward View. It is part of a £2.6 million package committed to integrating pharmacists as clinical practitioners in teams across urgent care during 2017/18.

Since the project started on 4 December last year, 1249 patients have been referred to local pharmacies during late night, weekend and out of hours periods, reducing the pressures on urgent GP care and A&E departments. The pharmacy receives electronic notification that a patient has been referred and will follow up with the patient if they do not attend the pharmacy within 12 hours of referral.

As of 31 December 2017, around 60% of callers referred successfully attended pharmacies and of those 39% received advice and the supply of an OTC medicine, 22% received advice only, 18% were escalated for in hours GP appointments and 11% escalated to attend an out of hours appointment/walk in centres. 

Over 300 local pharmacies across Durham, Darlington, Tees, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear are taking part with patients referred receiving clinical assessment in a private consultation room.  The pharmacists will advise on management and treatment for the relief of symptoms or if necessary will make a direct GP appointment for the patient or refer them to another specialist health service provider.

The scheme is focused on providing more accessible care closer to home in the community from local pharmacies which provide NHS services in the same way as GP practices. Pharmacists train for five years before qualifying as clinical health professionals.

Currently less than 1% of all NHS 111 calls across England are referred to a community pharmacy while non-urgent appointments can block access to GP appointments for patients with greater needs. So far, a significant proportion of calls have been for seasonal cough and cold type symptoms. 

Dr Jonathan Slade, Deputy Medical Director, NHS England Cumbria and the North East said: “The future direction and success for the NHS is dependent on much closer working between different providers of health and social care, and this includes tapping into underused resources like community pharmacy. The pressures that the NHS is under generally, and particularly in winter, need to be addressed in innovative ways, and the CPRS is an excellent example of how this closer collaboration can continue to deliver great care conveniently, and help relieve some of the pressures in key areas such as Urgent and Emergency Care.”

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