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GPs fear ‘influx of patients’ after NHS cuts pharmacy minor ailment schemes

Exclusive GPs in the South West are losing a vital support service from their local pharmacists after NHS England pulled out of funding a minor ailments scheme, Pulse has learned.

The scheme in Bristol – which funds pharmacists to advise and treat patients on a range of minor health problems so they don’t need to go to their GP – ended this month, after NHS Bristol CCG failed to find the money to continue the service.

NHS England confirmed it was ceasing to fund this and other minor ailments schemes in the South West, and that as a result the Bristol scheme was closing – although it claimed that sufficient funding has been made available through the national pharmacy contract for CCGs to fund them.

But local GP leaders said closure of Bristol’s service was a ‘shocking’ move that made a mockery of NHS England’s rhetoric on boosting support for GPs through pharmacies and self-care, as laid out in the much-vaunted GP Forward View.

The service – formerly commissioned by the PCT – has been funded by NHS England since 2013, when it took over responsibility for core pharmacy contracts following the Health and Social Care Act.

NHS England South West has now decided to decommission this and the other schemes it inherited in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall and pass on responsibility locally to the CCGs.

As a result cash-strapped NHS Bristol CCG – which recently took over the running of two struggling neighbouring CCGs – has no funding to continue the service.

A spokesperson for both NHS England and NHS Bristol CCG told Pulse: ‘As of 1 April 2017, NHS England will decommission the minor ailment scheme in Bristol.

‘With the current funding arrangements ending, NHS Bristol CCG is trying to secure funding for a new service. However, this means from 31 March the existing scheme will no longer be available.’

The spokesperson added that a ‘new national pharmacy contract being rolled out makes greater provision for CCGs to invest in enhanced pharmacy minor ailment schemes’ and that this will ‘mean the minor ailment schemes will be better joined up with other CCG-commissioned community, urgent and emergency services’.

But Avon LMC representative Dr Shaba Nabi, a GP in Bristol, said it showed a ‘shocking lack of insight by NHS England’ and that losing the service was ‘catastrophic for our practices’.

She added: ‘This is a time when there is supposed to be more investment into primary care and pharmacists are supposed to be helping us with our crisis. Yet we are having a valuable service like this cut.

‘At the moment our demand is being partly managed by this scheme so we will see an influx of patients for these minor conditions.’

Dr Nabi said GPs were also frustrated that NHS England had not consulted local GPs or the LMC about stopping the service, and that her practice only learned about it by chance.

Dr Nabi said: ‘Nobody from NHSE had liaised with GPs, or the LMC, which was absolutely shocking – we found out a week before the service was going to be ending.’

NHS England South West said the schemes would continue at CCGs in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, while elsewhere in the country, NHS England South said the other minor ailments schemes it funds – at 16 CCGs in London – would continue this year.

However, it comes as one CCG in London that was responsible for commissioning  its own minor ailments scheme also pulled the service.

NHS Hounslow CCG said it had decided to close the scheme because there had been ‘poor uptake’.

In a statement, the CCG said: ‘Following a review of the Minor Ailments Scheme, a decision has been made by NHS Hounslow CCG not to renew the contract for 2017-18, on the basis of a recommendation from the Clinical Board.

‘Over the past five years there has been very limited uptake (around three patients a day), from patients and pharmacies, with a majority of the activity coming from just two pharmacies. This means that among other issues, the Minor Ailments Scheme did not provide an equitable service for the total population of Hounslow.’

But Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer, medical director for north west London, Londonwide LMCs, said: ‘Run in coordination with local GP practices, minor ailments schemes help to free up precious GP appointments for patients with more complex health needs.

‘At a time when there is a campaign to get more people to utilise the expertise provided by pharmacists cancelling one of these schemes shows a lack of joined-up thinking.’