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Pharmacies to receive patient referrals direct from GPs this month

GPs will be able to refer patients directly to pharmacies in the next stage of NHS England’s Digital Minor Illness Referral Service (DMIRS) pilot, due to go live this month.

The “pharmacy connection scheme” referred to in NHS England’s long-term plan published in January, will see GPs refer patients with low acuity conditions – such as rashes, constipation, and vaginal discharge – directly to community pharmacies via online triage systems.

The first pilot sites are “likely” to go live this month, in the Cheshire, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cumbria and Greater Manchester areas, England’s chief pharmaceutical officer Dr Keith Ridge told the Clinical Pharmacy Congress in London last Friday (June 7).

It is estimated that 6% of all GP consultations – 20.4 million appointments per year – could be safely transferred to a community pharmacist, Dr Ridge claimed in his presentation.

NHS England is working with the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners on the rollout of the DMIRS pilot, he added.

C+D has asked NHS England for more details on the pilot, including how many pharmacies will be involved.

Success of NHS 111 referrals

The pilot follows the success of pharmacy referrals from NHS 111, which uses PharmOutcomes or NHSmail to direct patients with “a range of low acuity conditions” to a pharmacy for a consultation. NHS England first trialled the scheme as the Community Pharmacy Referral Service in Durham, Darlington, Tees, Northumberland, and Tyne and Wear in 2017, and it went on to win a C+D Award the following year.

Four areas – covering 1,966 pharmacies – are currently piloting the NHS 111 referral service, in the north east, East Midlands, London and Devon.

The pilot will run until September 30, but NHS England plans to roll the NHS 111 referrals out “to scale, subject to contract negotiations”, Dr Ridge said.

Announcing the start of negotiations for a new pharmacy funding contract in April, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee said talks would include “the possible rollout of a national minor illnesses referral service via NHS 111, and the piloting of referrals to community pharmacy from other settings such as GPs and NHS.UK”.

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