Pharmacies do not have the capacity to absorb pressure from GPs unless it comes with additional funding, pharmacy leaders have warned.
A new NHS England ad campaign, announced earlier this week, aims to redirect patients from GP practices to local pharmacies for minor conditions such as coughs, aches, cystitis and colds.
But community pharmacy negotiating body PSNC has spoken out against the campaign calling it ‘deeply concerning’, ‘irresponsible, ‘extremely unhelpful’ and ‘irritating’.
And National Association of Primary Care chair and community pharmacist Ash Soni said if the campaign is successful, pharmacists may end up being forced to refer patients to GPs, A&E or NHS 111.
The NAPC chair told Pulse’s sister title The Pharmacist: ‘Helping to recognise the value that pharmacy brings is a great thing. But there is a complete lack of understanding about the financial position that the vast majority of pharmacies are in and the consequence that has on their ability to provide these things.’
Currently the only mechanism for pharmacists to be paid for patient consultations is via the Community Pharmacy Consultation Scheme (CPCS).
If pharmacists refer patients to a GP or NHS 111, then those services can refer them to community pharmacy, ‘then pharmacy gets paid and therefore there will be an income which then helps to drive the ability to provide the service’, Mr Soni said.
‘Whereas if they come straight to the pharmacy, they get advice for free, nothing, there’s no recognition of the cost and time and everything else that that takes and there’s no benefit [to community pharmacy]’ he said.
Mr Soni suggested that in the past, community pharmacy was able to provide patient support for free ‘within the fact that there was sufficient income coming from the contractual framework’ and the dispensing business.
He added: ‘We understand that general practice is under pressure just as much, but unless we find ways to be able to provide suitable funding for all elements of primary care, that recognise the value that primary care brings in delivering care to the population, we will not achieve the goals of impacting on health needs of our population.
‘If you funded the [Pharmacy First] service, you’d then be able to create the integration which enables that tool to work’.
He also warned that GP practices would see knock-on effects from underfunding of pharmacies, with deprived areas at greatest risk of seeing their community pharmacy closing down.
‘That will increase health inequalities and lead to the reverse of what the what everybody says they’re trying to achieve.
Malcom Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) said: ‘Community pharmacies are often the best place for patient to go for help with minor health concerns.
‘However the current situation that many pharmacies find themselves, with a 30% cut in real term funding, the NHS recruiting their pharmacists and technicians to work in general practice and with the continuing increase in the number of medicines prescribed, will mean that there is now a very real risk that when patients visit a pharmacy, they will be faced by exhausted teams and longer than expected waiting times.
‘The NHS policy of moving asking patients to visit their local pharmacy does not address the problem of delays to access in primary care, it simply moves it from one pressurized location to another. The NHS must address the chronic underfunding of primary care, and of pharmacy in particular, if patients are to be able to access the care they need and should rightly expect.’
Last week, The Pharmacist reported that a third of pharmacists (34%) think that the Community Pharmacy Consultation Scheme (CPCS) is not fit for purpose.
Of those, nearly half (46%) blamed GPs, who they believe are not using the service to refer patients to community pharmacy, according to a survey conducted on behalf of drug manufacturer Sanofi.
A version of this article was first published by Pulse’s sister title The Pharmacist