Fewer than 7 in 10 GP practices are actively referring patients to community pharmacy through the ‘Community pharmacist consultation service’ (CPCS), a health minister has indicated.
In an answer to a written question asking the government what steps it had taken to encourage GPs to refer patients to community pharmacies, pharmacy minister Neil O’Brien said on 4 April 2023 that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had introduced GP referrals through the CPCS in November 2020.
The CPCS was first rolled out in October 2019, enabling community pharmacies to receive referrals from NHS 111 for urgent medicines supply and treatment for minor illnesses. Referrals were later extended to GPs following a pilot across England, which ended in October 2020.
“As of March 2023, 80% of all practices are connected and able to refer with 85% of those already actively referring,” he said.
This suggests that referrals are currently being sent from just 68% of all GP practices to community pharmacies.
The figures come despite financial incentives announced by NHS England on 14 October 2021, designed to encourage all practices to sign up to the scheme by 1 December 2021.
Further incentives were introduced through the Investment and Impact Fund (IIF) for 2022/2023, requiring practices to make “0.65 CPCS referrals per 1,000 registered patients per week”.
However, these incentives were removed from the IIF for 2023/2024, following NHS England’s changes to the GP contract.
In December 2021, GP leaders said a “bureaucratic” electronic referral system had prevented more GP practices from referring patients through the service, with a joint report published by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Royal College of General Practice stating that just 862 out of more than 6,500 GP practices were using the service as of October 2021.
The report, published in November 2021, recommended the GP referral system “fit into their current triage systems and pathways to ensure their teams didn’t have to learn additional/different IT systems or processes”.
In January 2022, The Pharmaceutical Journal revealed that GPs referred a total of 6,992 patients to community pharmacies in the first five months of the CPCS, between 1 November 2020 and 1 April 2021, with just over 20% sold a medicine and given medical advice.