NHS England expects NHS 111 to direct more patients to community pharmacists than to GPs as a result of schemes set out in the ‘NHS Long-Term Plan’.
The new five-year GP contract, agreed between NHS England and the British Medical Association, confirmed plans to roll out the digital minor illness referral service (DMIRS) nationally “as rapidly as possible”.
DMIRS is currently being piloted across more than 2,000 community pharmacies in London, Devon, the East Midlands and the North East of England, and it sees patients referred to community pharmacies from NHS 111.
Speaking at the NHS England board meeting on 31 January 2019, Ian Dodge, NHS England’s national director for strategy and innovation, said that as a result of the new contract, NHS 111 would be ”redirecting more people to pharmacists, we expect, than to practices to help alleviate demand”.
He said the extra capacity created by more referrals to community pharmacy “will help networks deliver improvements for their patients in a phased way, working with community health teams”.
“This includes medication reviews, better support for care homes [and] implementing the vanguard model,” he added.
The GP contract, published on 31 January 2019, set out plans for each primary care network (PCN) in England to receive £38,000 to hire a clinical pharmacist in 2019.
Pharmacy representative bodies responded by expressing concern for the role of community pharmacy after the implementation of PCNs.
However, Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, said in a NHS England email newsletter that the networks “present a great opportunity to integrate for all pharmacy professionals in primary care”.
“As community pharmacy focuses more on the minor illness aspects of urgent care, and supporting patients to prevent ill health, it will need to have strong links with PCN clinical pharmacists and pharmacy technicians,” he said.
He continued: “The NHS is already making better use of the clinical skills of community pharmacy professionals to advise and treat patients, and under PCNs this will continue.
“The NHS needs the clinical skills of community pharmacy professionals to achieve its vision for better safety, outcomes and value from medicines.”
Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, said: “We are pleased to hear the chief pharmaceutical officer recognising the clinical skills that community pharmacy teams possess.
“It is particularly encouraging to hear that NHS England is planning to discuss the national rollout of the DMIRS and we look forward to starting contract negotiations as soon as possible.”