A third of patients surveyed by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said they visited their pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in place of their GP who was unable to see them.
The survey of 2,000 respondents was carried out online between 29 October and 2 November 2020, and found that 35% (700) said that as a result of COVID safety measures at their GP surgery, they had not been able to see a doctor and had instead visited a pharmacy.
Of those visits, the largest proportion (42%) related to minor illnesses. Just under a third (33%) were related to access to medicines.
The data also showed that in 8% of these visits, patients visiting a pharmacy instead of a GP surgery wished to discuss changes in their mental wellbeing.
Overall, the NPA’s survey found that seven out of ten adults visited a pharmacy at least once during the pandemic.
Nick Kaye, vice chair of the NPA, said the survey data shows that community pharmacy is “integral to a functioning system of primary care”.
“People trust their local pharmacists and most people can get to a pharmacy within a matter of minutes, including in the most deprived areas. That’s a level of access that is unsurpassed elsewhere in the health service.
“While other parts of the health service have deemed it necessary to restrict the amount of face-to-face care they give, pharmacies have kept their doors open throughout the pandemic, including all lockdowns.”
Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that GPs and their teams had “been working incredibly hard throughout the pandemic, transforming the way we deliver care so that we can continue to make the vast majority of NHS patient contacts”.
Marshall added that “it’s vital that patients know that general practice services continue to be available despite the second lockdown — although they may be delivered differently”.
“While we don’t know the circumstances of the patients who responded to this survey we do know that, for some patients, accessing pharmacies rather than GPs is entirely appropriate, and when clinically necessary — such as when physical examinations or childhood vaccinations are required, or when remote consultations have not been appropriate — face-to-face consultations have been and will continue to be arranged in as safe a way as possible,” he said.
From 1 November 2020, GPs across England became able to refer patients with minor illnesses to pharmacies under the community pharmacist consultation service (CPCS).
Robbie Turner, director of pharmacy and member experience at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said the new referral route will “further embed pharmacists into urgent care pathways and help improve the care of patients presenting with minor illnesses”. Turner added that it also “provides the basis for further collaboration with local GPs”.