GPs are sending up to four patients per day to community pharmacies in the south west of England as part of a national referral pilot, a National Pharmacy Association (NPA) lead has said.
The GP ‘Digital minor illness referral service’ (DMIRS) pilot, launched in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) in July 2019, is one of 11 such pilots across England.
The service allows GP practices to refer patients with ‘low-acuity’ symptoms, such as a sore throat or diarrhoea, to community pharmacies, which are then paid £14 per consultation.
Speaking at a British Medical Association conference on 8 February 2020, Michael Lennox, local integration lead at the NPA and chief officer of Somerset Local Pharmaceutical Committee, said that approximately 30 GP practices in the BNSSG area “have partaken in this service and the community pharmacies are having three to four interventions a day each”.
“When you do the maths on that, it’s about 8% or 9% of the total appointment capacity of Bristol that is being correctly and quickly triaged from [GPs’] front door into community pharmacy,” he said.
The consultation rate in BNSSG suggests pharmacies are being paid up to £1,680 per month for participating in the GP DMIRS.
Meanwhile, data published in January 2020 suggested community pharmacies offering the ‘Community pharmacist consultation service’ (CPCS) are being paid an average of £60 per month for handling referrals from NHS 111.
The GP DMIRS pilot is expected to be rolled out nationally through the CPCS from April 2020, provided the GP DMIRS pilots demonstrate “value for money”.
However, Lennox told delegates, “it’s due to be rolled out as we move through 2020/2021. How quickly? I wouldn’t like to say”.
“My guess is it’ll be probably calendar year 2021. If it sneaks under the wire into late autumn, that would be great.”
Speaking to The Pharmaceutical Journal, Lennox added that the referral rate is a “game changer”, adding that it provides more money for the sector and better care for patients.
“The gap then opens up for GPs to say ‘we’re going to have a 7–10% bandwidth now in terms of appointments’.”
NHS England announced the GP DMIRS pilot in June 2019, estimating that 20.4 million GP appointments could be transferred to community pharmacy through the service.
The GP DMIRS builds on the initial NHS 111 DMIRS pilot, which launched in the north east of England in December 2017 and has since been subsumed into the CPCS.
The Pharmaceutical Journal has approached NHS England South West for comment.