GP practices will refer patients to the pharmacy Digital Minor Illness Referral Service (DMIRS) directly from June 2019.
Anne Joshua, head of pharmacy strategy at NHS England, told the Clinical Pharmacy Congress that six sites across England would be piloting the service from June 2019, covering 54 pharmacies and 26 GP practices.
Speaking to The Pharmaceutical Journal, Joshua said the GP practices taking part in the pilot would be testing different systems to refer patients to a community pharmacy, including existing GP referral systems and online referral triage systems that some GP practices have adopted.
She said that although NHS England did not want to “let a thousand flowers bloom”, it hoped that trialling several different ways of working would give a clearer picture of patient safety, the patient experience, and how it works for both pharmacists and GPs.
The DMIRS is currently operating across four areas of England — the north east, London, Devon and the east Midlands — but the new five-year GP contract, which was agreed between NHS England and the British Medical Association in February 2019, confirmed plans to roll out the scheme nationally “as rapidly as possible”.
Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, also told the conference that GP referral to DMIRS could be a “game changer” for pharmacy.
He said that if the DMIRS scheme was rolled out nationally it should be done as a “programme management system”, which would “guarantee the quality of care”.
Joshua also told the congress, held at ExCeL London on 7–8 June 2019, that online access to the NHS Urgent Medicine Supply Advanced Service (NUMSAS), which is also being run as a pilot across England, will soon be expanded to cover the whole country.
The scheme is currently being trialled in Manchester, where patients receive the same assessment via the NHS website as they would if they rang NHS 111.
Pharmacists providing the NUMSAS service interact with it in the same way as they would if the referral came via a phone call, and patients accessing the service on their mobile phones or devices are given a code that they must show when they visit the pharmacy to collect their medicine.
“At the moment, 2% of calls to NHS 111 are out-of-hours emergency medicine supply calls, so if we can shift that online that would free up a huge amount of capacity for the telephone service,” Joshua said.
Joshua also said that in some parts of the country, NUMSAS operators are switching off the ability for call handlers to refer calls for emergency medicine supply to GP out-of-hours services, meaning they have to be referred to pharmacists via NUMSAS.
The most up-to-date NHS England figures show that NUMSAS received around 15,000 referrals per month from NHS 111 in March 2019, Joshua said.
In March 2019, NHS England confirmed that the NUMSAS pilot would be extended for a further six months until 30 September 2019, after having already extended the pilot twice since its launch in December 2016.