GPs must sign up to the community pharmacist consultation service (CPCS) before December to be eligible for the £250m winter access fund announced last week, NHS England has said.
NHS England’s action plan said systems must ‘support all practices, by December, to sign up to and make full use of general practice referrals to the community pharmacy consultation service for minor illnesses to divert demand and improve patient experience’.
It added: ‘Access to the fund by a particular practice is contingent on sign-up to the GP community pharmacist consultation service.’
According to NHS England, just 800 of around 6,000 GP practices in England are currently signed up to the scheme.
The document added: ‘Use of the CPCS can help alleviate pressure on GP appointments by harnessing the skills and knowledge of community pharmacists to treat a range of minor illnesses.
‘Using the service gives a patient a same-day appointment in a community pharmacy and helps improve patient experience, as well as directing demand to the most appropriate setting.’
NHS England will provide ‘support through a nationally-procured resource that will help practices use the new service’. it said.
All practices are ‘encouraged’ to sign up by 1 December 2021, it added.
The document reiterated that GPs are being incentivised to implement the scheme or ‘increase their current referral rate’ via the PCN investment and impact fund (IIF) from this month.
The RCGP had previously said there was a low uptake of the CPCS among practices.
Responding to a question at Health and Social Care Committee meeting in September, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said that pharmacies can help GPs cope with their high workload through the CPCS – for which he said he understood that ‘the uptake has not been great’.
NHS England has previously said that around 10% of online GP consultations could potentially be referred to pharmacies via the CPCS.
The service, which offers patients a consultation with a pharmacist for minor illnesses, has been taking referrals from NHS 111 since October 2019. It was extended to include referrals from GPs in November 2020, after a successful pilot.
Meanwhile, the document also said that pharmacists joining PCNs will automatically be trained to prescribe under the plans to improve access to GP services.
And it added that NHS England is piloting the supply of contraception by community pharmacies and will work with the Government to ‘consider how far and fast we can expand the role of our pharmacists in the supply of medication, as part of relieving workload on GPs’.
A version of this story was first published by Pulse’s sister title The Pharmacist