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GP view: CPCS made our communication with pharmacists more crucial

As triage systems like the CPCS are never perfect, it’s important that pharmacists feel empowered to contact the patient’s GP when necessary, says Toni Hazell

Another year, another acronym. Today I’m thinking about the CPCS. Interesting though it would be to discuss forklift trucks, I won’t be talking about the Construction Plant Competence Scheme, but the other CPCS – the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, which replaced the Digital Minor Illness Referral Service (DMIRS) and the NHS Urgent Medicine Supply Advanced Service (NUMSAS) in 2019. Whatever the recruitment issues for doctors and nurses, the NHS is clearly not short of people who can put a catchy acronym together.

This scheme is meant to connect a patient with a minor illness, or who needs an urgent supply of a medicine, with a community pharmacy. There seems to be an element of reinventing the wheel here, as pharmacists have always talked to patients who walk in with minor illnesses and need over-the-counter medicines.

As a GP, I regularly signpost patients to their local pharmacy when they ring up with a sore throat or other ailment that doesn’t require a doctor’s advice. The difference with CPCS, as far as I can tell, is that NHS 111 does more of the signposting, both by phone and online. Some patients are redirected from 999 to CPCS. It beggars belief that anyone would phone 999 with a minor ailment, but sadly we all know that it happens.

I can’t see much to dislike about CPCS. It makes absolute sense for pharmacists, who are highly qualified professionals, to use their skills to deal with patients who have minor illnesses. It is possibly a sign of the times that such advice is needed at all. In years gone by, much of this advice might have been given by family members. I have written before about the importance of communication between pharmacists and GPs, which became even more crucial with the advent of CPCS.

Triage systems are never perfect. There will be some instances where a pharmacist starts their assessment of a patient referred by CPCS and realises that the patient needs a doctor. It’s really important that the pharmacist feels empowered to contact the patient’s GP.

Before the comments come in, yes, I know that GPs aren’t always the easiest people to get hold of. My practice has recently upgraded its phone system and I gather that it is now much easier for callers to get through. However, for matters that require a GP but aren’t urgent, it would be useful for pharmacies to have the email addresses for all their local practices, so that these patients can be handed over in a timely manner. 

Let’s hope that the CPCS becomes one cog in the system whereby the patient gets the right care, at the right time, with the right person. If that means pharmacists and GPs talking to each other a bit more then that will be a welcome outcome.

Toni Hazell is a GP based in a practice in London

Every day this week – March 15-19 – C+D will be analysing the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) a year into its launch. Read all the coverage in the dedicated hub and join the conversation on the C+D Community.


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