Under the 'Pharmacy Urgent Care' pilot programme announced by the Department of Health (DH) yesterday (October 13), patients who call NHS 111 for urgent repeat medication will be directed straight to a community pharmacist, instead of out-of-hours GP surgeries.
The programme will launch in "pilot areas across England" in December, the DH added.
NHS 111 will also develop a “new approach” to refer patients with minor ailments – such as sore throats and bites – to community pharmacists for advice and medication, the DH said. This work will be linked to locally commissioned minor ailments services, it added.
However, NPA chairman Ian Strachan said yesterday that the new pharmacy schemes are a "smoke screen...clearly timed to draw attention away from the looming cuts planned by the [DH]".
“Pharmacies cannot deliver these services if they have to cut back staff. They cannot deliver a service if they have been forced to close," he added.
The emergency supply pilot will be funded by the pharmacy integration fund – a £300 million fund designed to assimilate pharmacy into the NHS and other care settings – and the cost of drugs would be recharged to NHS England as an average cost across each clinical commissioning group, the DH told C+D today (October 14).
The England-wide minor ailments direction service will be "developed and evaluated" between December 2016 and April 2018, the DH added. It will not receive funding and instead be "undertaken through 'business as usual' work", the DH told C+D.
As part of its work looking at options to better integrate community pharmacy into urgent care, NHS England will investigate the impact of patients going to A&E for urgent prescriptions, the DH said.
"Modernising the sector"
Pharmacy minister David Mowat said yesterday that the DH is “modernising the sector to give patients the best possible quality and care”.
“This new scheme will make more use of pharmacists’ expertise, as well as freeing up vital time for GPs and reducing visits to A&E for urgent repeat medicines,” Mr Mowat said.
He added it is part of the DH’s drive to meet increasing demand for services, while “transforming” how pharmacists and their teams operate in the community.
England's chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge said the pilot will help pharmacy to integrate into the NHS’ urgent care system and described it as a “step towards the new role for community pharmacy”.
NHS England medical director for acute care Keith Willett said directing patients with less serious conditions to pharmacy could reduce the current pressure on the NHS.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee has today rejected the government's plans to slash pharmacy funding in England by 12% for December 2016 until March 2017.