An NHS scheme which has seen tens of thousands of people get a fast, safe, face-to-face appointment with a local pharmacist is accelerating as people start to return to normal life after the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Almost a third-of-a-million health checks have taken place under the new scheme, called the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS). Most of them – more than 180,000 – have happened since the NHS stepped up its response to the emerging threat of coronavirus in January.
The ambition for the CPCS was set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, published in January 2019, as one of a number of enhancements to the popular 111 service. It aims to ensure people have quick and easy access the right help in the right place.
Available through the free NHS 111 phone or online service, those who would benefit are booked in for a face-to-face consultation with a local pharmacist for a range of minor illnesses, or to get an urgent supply of a previously prescribed medicine. If the pharmacist feels it is necessary, he or she will refer the patient to their own GP or other medical professional for further investigation.
The NHS is encouraging more people to come forward for care who might have held back due to concerns around coronavirus. With this in mind, local pharmacies are gearing up to provide an increasing number of consultations safely, so that all those who would benefit can be referred.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “High street pharmacists are highly qualified clinical experts who are playing a key part in the NHS’s frontline response to the greatest public health threat in our history, and they are making thousands of safe, convenient consultations available every day.
“This new service is part of a continually-developing NHS 111 service which is helping millions of people to safely access the right help fast, often without the need to go to a hospital A&E department. As the NHS adapts its urgent care services for the coronavirus era, these new options are going to be increasingly important.”
Local pharmacies have joined GP practices, out-of-hours GP and dental services, and Urgent Treatment Centres among the range of alternatives to hospital A&Es that people can be booked into if they need urgent care. This is in addition to the clinical advice dispensed to thousands of patients who every day choose to phone or walk into their local pharmacy to seek help with minor health concerns or with their medicines.
Almost 190,000 people have been referred to the CPCS service for an urgent medicines supply. Many others have been offered a same day consultation by the NHS 111 service for expert support with minor illnesses including skin problems, sore throat, eye problems, back pain and other injuries.
An additional 12% were successfully escalated after immediate triage by the pharmacist, helping thousands to get the urgent care and treatment they need as quickly as possible. An escalation by a pharmacist may be the push many need to seek care during an uncertain time, as some put off seeking urgent medical help due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Government Minister for Primary Care, Jo Churchill, said: “I’m delighted that the brilliant work of local pharmacy teams means that tens of thousands of people have been able to access timely advice and treatments through this innovative consultation scheme. As the pharmacy sector continues to adapt and adopt new ways of working, services like this demonstrate that pharmacy and the wider NHS will always be there for those who need it.”