Community pharmacy should be incorporated into the NHS 111 service so the "untapped potential" of the profession can be exploited, a report by NHS England has said.
NHS England's national medical director Sir Bruce Keogh called on the health service to "harness the skills, experience and accessibility of community pharmacies up and down the country" to reduce the pressure on emergency services, in the report published yesterday (November 13).
Patients should be able to use the NHS 111 phone line to contact a wider range of health professionals, including community pharmacists, as part of a fundamental shift in the provision of urgent care away from hospitals, said Sir Bruce's team in response to ongoing review of urgent and emergency care in England.
Patients should be able to use the NHS 111 phone line to contact a wider range of health professionals, including community pharmacists, said the NHS England report
More on pharmacy's role in the NHS
Patients should also be able to use the phone service to book a "review" at a pharmacy with extended opening hours, NHS England's urgent and emergency care review team said in the report to health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The NHS 111 service has come under fire from pharmacists since its pilot in 2010, because less than 3 per cent of callers in the initial sites were referred to pharmacy.
"Community pharmacies are an under-used resource: many are now open 100 hours a week, with a qualified pharmacist on hand to advise on minor illnesses, medication queries and other problems. We can capitalise on the untapped potential and convenience," the report's authors said.
"With four years of training, pharmacists have a wealth of knowledge and experience. We intend to ensure these are utilised more effectively," they added.
The transformation of emergency services was a "major undertaking" and the authors anticipated that it would take between three and five years to enact the changes. The team would deliver its next report in spring 2014, it said.
Celesio UK managing Cormac Tobin said the report recognised the "critical role" pharmacy could play in preventing a winter crisis at A&E departments. The NHS needed a long-term approach to expanding the role of community pharmacy or the health service would face "crisis after crisis", he said.
Pharmacy Voice chief executive Rob Darracott told C+D that the report's recommendations were an "open door" for pharmacy to provide more appropriate care and the sector now needed to "make it happen".
Should pharmacists have a greater role in providing urgent care?