Community pharmacists could refer patients with menopausal symptoms to another healthcare professional for diagnosis, under a new pharmacy service being developed by the NHS.
The service is under consideration for inclusion in updated data standards drawn up by the Professional Record Standards Body (PRSB), which develops standards for patient records, with slides published on the PRSB website stating that a NHS policy team is designing the service.
When implemented by IT system suppliers, the standards mean pharmacy staff can digitally update GP records with patient details, advice given or medicine supplied.
Speaking at the Westminster Health Forum on 28 March 2023, Stephen Goundrey-Smith, clinical advisor to the PRSB, said it is in the process of “updating the community pharmacy standard” to include additional “proposed pharmacy services”, such as services relating to the menopause, cancer referrals and weight management.
The standard was previously updated in 2021 to include additional pharmacy services that were under consideration at the time, including a contraception monitoring service, which was later piloted in community pharmacies across England and commissioned as an advanced service.
Slides published on the PRSB website as part of a consultation process on the updated standards note the standards have “been widely implemented for vaccinations (flu and COVID) and emergency supply of medications, but less so for the other services”.
“[The] aim now is to update the standard ready for wide implementation across community pharmacies for all relevant services,” the slides say, adding that a key objective is to “develop a standard with capacity and flexibility to accommodate potential new services being developed or piloted by NHS England policy teams”.
According to the slides, the menopause service will see staff “opportunistically identify people with menopausal symptoms and provide a consultation service with their pharmacist, with the possibility for referral to another service that is more appropriate for making assessment and diagnosis”.
It adds that the service is “in early stages of consideration”, with “the NHS policy team still in the process of designing this service”.
Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said: “A community pharmacy menopause service is one of the potential future options that we have considered, particularly as a way to make best use of independent prescribers within community pharmacy.
“However, while such services may be highlighted in the vision for the future of community pharmacy, which is being developed for PSNC by Nuffield Trust and The King’s Fund, our current focus is on addressing the funding and capacity challenges [that] pharmacy contractors are currently suffering.”
In March 2023, the PSNC advised the government against rolling out any new or expanded services “unless extra funding is put into community pharmacies”, in light of ongoing financial and operational pressures facing the sector.
Buxton added: “There are currently no discussions ongoing with NHS England about commissioning such a service and we assume the inclusion of the service in the PRSB standards consultation is a move to future-proof the standards.”
The updated standards will also enable pharmacists to refer patients to the NHS Digital Weight Management Programme and to secondary care for suspected cancer symptoms.
In January 2023, The Pharmaceutical Journal revealed that 40 community pharmacies in England were to begin directly referring patients with possible signs of cancer for scans, as part of a pilot service.
Consultation on the updated PRSB standards closed on 10 February 2023, with the update expected to be published in August 2023.
The Pharmaceutical Journal has approached NHS England for comment.