Community pharmacy staff conduct approximately 58 million unpaid patient consultations annually in England, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has revealed.
An audit of 5,830 community pharmacies carried out by the PSNC shows that 114,898 informal consultations were recorded between 25 January 2021 and 12 February 2021 — nearly a quarter of which related to COVID-19.
Participating pharmacies were asked to record the informal patient consultations they gave over a 24-hour period within these three weeks.
Consultations included in the audit excluded those given following the dispensing of a prescription or following a referral through the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS).
In a statement issued on 27 May 2021, the PSNC said the findings suggest the average pharmacy carries out more than 100 consultations per week, meaning more than 1.1 million informal consultations are taking place in pharmacies in England every week, “totalling more than 58 million consultations per year”.
Of the consultations that took place during the audit, 9% and 2.4% were as a result of informal referrals from general practice and NHS 111, respectively, that did not come through the CPCS.
The audit results come only a few months after the PSNC told The Pharmaceutical Journal in January 2021 that patients were being “improperly referred, either via [NHS] 111 or general practice” and are not being remunerated.
The PSNC said quantifying these informal referrals would enable them to “seek improvements to the CPCS” and “demonstrate the sector’s value to the public and the NHS, as well as supporting PSNC’s negotiations with [the government]”.
As part of the audit, pharmacies recorded providing advice alongside the sale of a medicine in 54% of consultations and advice alone in 43% of consultations.
The PSNC said this “indicates that every week pharmacies provide advice to over 730,000 people seeking advice for symptoms… [and] to over 263,000 people seeking advice about an existing medical condition”.
The results also showed that a quarter (24%) of the informal consultations included advice related to COVID-19, with these taking “on average 20% longer than a non-COVID-19 consultation”.
Overall, nearly half of the 114,898 patients who had a consultation with a pharmacist during the audit said that if they had not been able to attend their local pharmacy, they would have visited their GP, meaning that the informal pharmacy consultations could be saving 24 million GP appointments every year.
An additional 70,000 patients said they would go to A&E or an NHS walk-in centre every week if they could not get advice from their pharmacy.
Marc Donovan, chief pharmacist at Boots UK, said the audit “provides some of the strongest evidence yet of the value of community pharmacies”.
“The role of pharmacists is so much broader than dispensing medicine. Today’s pharmacists also provide a range of clinical services like vaccinations and testing, give expert health advice and can prescribe some medicines as well,” he said.
“We believe that the right model could relieve pressure on primary healthcare and reduce patient wait times further, as well as help to secure the long-term viability of our pharmacies.”
Simon Dukes, chief executive of the PSNC, said the audit provides “an important dataset for use in our negotiations with the government”.