Around half of patients who received a consultation in Welsh pharmacies would otherwise have gone to their GP first, an audit by Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) has found.
If patients had approached their GP first, this would have led to an additional 35,300 GP surgery consultations each week, CPW said in the audit report.
The audit took place between 28 September 2020 and 9 October 2020, with 522 pharmacies recording data on 9,975 patient consultations. CPW said that the audit was intended to “capture information regarding the range of unremunerated advice” provided by pharmacy teams.
On average, each pharmacy recorded 15.5 consultations every day, with consultations lasting an average of 6.4 minutes. When the data is extrapolated to all 714 pharmacies in Wales, CPW said, this suggests that more than 11,000 advice consultations occur across the Welsh community pharmacy network every day.
Richard Brown, a Local Pharmaceutical Committee chief officer who led the audit, said that “person-centred care by community pharmacy teams has long been a core component of the service provided, yet it is often undervalued by the wider healthcare system”. This is partly because consultations — and their outcomes — are not recorded, and so “there is no evidence to demonstrate value”, Brown said.
He added that there is often “little realisation that a significant amount of the advice is given [in community pharmacies] without any link to the sale of a medicine.”
In the audit report, CPW said that self-care advice is an essential service of the Welsh Pharmacy contract, and that “funding for this clinical care is delivered with no additional remuneration”.
Under the Community Pharmacy Common Ailment Service (CAS), which offers patients support for 26 common ailments, pharmacies are remunerated for each patient registered for the service.
CPW said that while the CAS is an “important service provided by pharmacies”, it is “designed to only target patients who would have otherwise attended their GP practice” or other healthcare provider.
“The majority of patients who present to the pharmacy are therefore clinically managed via the advice and over-the-counter product sale route,” it said.
Judy Thomas, director of contractor services at CPW, said that the audit “is a critical first step in quantifying the amount of advice work delivered by community pharmacies in Wales” and that it “demonstrates, without question, the huge value that community pharmacies possess in relieving stress on other parts of NHS Wales”.
A spokesperson for the Welsh government said: “All consultations undertaken as part of Wales’ national common ailment service, including those which do not result in a supply of medicine, are remunerated and have been since the service began in 2013.”
They added that all patients can be registered with the CAS, including “patients presenting directly at a pharmacy for advice and treatment, regardless of whether they have a referral from another healthcare professional”.