Some 353,000 patients have been referred to community pharmacies through the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) since its launch in October 2019, NHS England has said.
This includes 340,000 referrals from NHS 111 and 13,000 referrals from 280 GP practices — amounting to a total of approximately 35 referrals per pharmacy since the service began.
The CPCS, which began with referrals from NHS 111, later expanded to include GP referrals to community pharmacy from 1 November 2020, following a pilot in parts of England that began in June 2019.
However, local pharmaceutical committee (LPC) leaders have told The Pharmaceutical Journal that referrals from NHS 111 have been lower than expected, while take-up of the GP referral service has been delayed owing to COVID-19.
Speaking at a webinar hosted by the Royal College of General Practitioners on 27 May 2021, Anne Joshua, head of pharmacy integration at NHS England, said that “over 10,000 community pharmacies” have registered to provide the CPCS, adding that GP referrals “need to grow over time”.
“In terms of the practices that are referring, we have 13,000 patients that have been referred since October 2020 to [May 2021], and that’s from 280 practices,” she said.
“We’ve already got 20% of all practices in England getting ready to prepare for this referral pathway, and we’re really, really keen to actually work with practices in their areas to make that happen.”
While Joshua was speaking, a presentation slide also showed that “NHS 111 has referred 340,00 patients (October 2019 – May 2021)”.
She added that NHS 111 and GPs are referring “more or less the same case mix”, with sore throat the most frequent referral from NHS 111 and skin rashes the most common reason for referral from general practice.
Joshua had previously said in September 2020 that pharmacists involved in the GP CPCS pilot were completing 90% of the consultations referred to them.
Her comments come after the north west region of NHS England announced that GPs in nearly a third of its primary care networks (PCNs) would begin referring patients to community pharmacy from autumn 2021.
However, Yogendra Parmar, chief executive officer of City and Hackney LPC, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that “GP CPCS implementation has not been sufficiently resourced by NHS England”.
“LPCs have had to step into the breach to gain GP CPCS traction,” she said.
“Referral numbers are still very low, but will grow as it becomes business as usual,” Parmar continued.
“City & Hackney, like all London pharmacies, receive very few [NHS] 111 CPCS referrals and have the lowest such referral rates in the country.”
Michael Keen, chief executive officer of Kingston and Richmond LPC, said that the GP CPCS was “live in the Richmond PCN area” and the LPC was “talking with two other PCN areas, who want to go live, and six other surgeries expressed interest but COVID has delayed matters”.
“I believe there is definitely capacity in pharmacies to provide more referral consultations,” he said.
“This is a service that will build gradually, and IT matters remain to be resolved in the long run because it was launched without a national IT solution.”
When the CPCS was announced in September 2019, NHS England had said pharmacists would need to provide their own IT systems after April 2021.
However, this was delayed to October 2021, after NHS England announced additional funding for the IT system to be provided centrally.