Health Secretary backs expanded minor ailments role for pharmacy

The Secretary of State for Health, Sajid Javid, has today backed a bigger role for community pharmacy teams in providing medicines to help people with minor conditions.

PSNC will discuss the details with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) but sees this an opportunity both to expand pharmacies’ role and to press for adequate funding for the walk-in advice that pharmacies are offering on a daily basis.

The Health Secretary’s comments came alongside the announcement of a Winter Access Fund to be made available to GP practices linked to the provision of more face-to-face appointments.

In order to access the funding, practices will need to demonstrate the access they are providing to local commissioners, and they will also be asked to refer patients through the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS).

The funding will not go direct to practices but via local commissioners, and this may present an opportunity for LPCs to bid for local community pharmacy services; PSNC has published a toolkit to help them to do so.

GP leaders have expressed disappointment that the funding will not help to relieve pressure on practices.

PSNC vice-chair and independent contractor Bharat Patel, said:

“Community pharmacy teams already do a huge amount to reduce pressure on GP practices and this has never been truer than during the COVID-19 pandemic when pharmacies’ doors remained open as normal. The figure for how many GP appointments we save by giving unpaid healthcare advice – some 24 million every year – speaks for itself.

It is good news that the Secretary of State shares our ambition to get every GP practice using the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS). We have been pressing for GPs to be further incentivised to make use of the service for many months, and this should help to increase referrals to the service for contractors, as well as reducing the burden on general practice.

But all of this comes with a caveat. The successes of the past year have taken their toll on the sector – remaining open throughout the pandemic came at huge financial and emotional cost to pharmacy owners, and we know that pharmacy teams are continuing to operate under great stress with workforce challenges growing ever greater. We will continue to make very clear to Government that while we absolutely want to help, this needs to be matched with extra support.

While other parts of the NHS also clearly need funding relief, investments elsewhere are difficult to understand from within a sector who could not have done more through the pandemic, and which is already at breaking point.”

PSNC Director of NHS Services Alastair Buxton said:

“We welcome the ambition for pharmacy teams to do more to provide access to medicines without the need for people to visit their GP and we look forward to exploring the details of this with DHSC.

CCGs and ICS should use the Winter Access Fund to commission additional local services from community pharmacy, including services to augment the CPCS, such as patient group directions, which are already being used successfully in several areas of the country to increase access to treatment, without the need to refer patients back to their GP.”

Key points for community pharmacy in the document

The two main uses of the Winter Access Fund will be:

  • to drive improved access to urgent, same day primary care, ideally from patients’ own general practice, by increasing capacity and GP appointment numbers achieved at practice or primary care network (PCN) level, or in combination; and
  • to increase the resilience of the NHS urgent care system during winter, by expanding same day urgent care capacity, through other services in any primary and community settings.

It will be for local integrated care systems (ICS) to determine the optimal use of the funding in line with local issues and solutions, national expectations and requirements. All systems must develop and submit a plan, by Thursday 28th October, assured by the ICS board.

The document contains a section on making best use of community pharmacy, which highlights the way the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) can help alleviate pressure on GP appointments by harnessing the skills and knowledge of community pharmacists.

It notes 800 practices are already signed up to provide the service. NHS England is providing support through a nationally procured resource that will help practices use the new service and all practices are encouraged to sign up by 1st December 2021. Participation in referrals to CPCS is a condition of a practice being able to benefit from the Winter Access Fund.


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