As of May 18, 295,256 patients had been referred to a community pharmacist by NHS 111 under the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) – which launched on October 29 – NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) told C+D last month (May 22).
Of these, 128, 575 (44%) referrals were made for patients with minor illness needs, while 166,681 (56%) had called NHS 111 with an urgent medication request, according to data NHSE&I shared with C+D.
The total number of CPCS referrals goes up to 307,142 once NHS 111 online referrals are added to the mix. As many as 11,886 referrals have been made through the NHS 111 online service since it began to be trialled in October last year. Of these, 8,399, were made after the service was officially rolled out at the end of March.
COVID-19 and CPCS
Between February and April, when the COVID-19 pandemic started taking its toll on the UK, community pharmacies handled 127,070 CPCS referrals.
While facing new challenges including difficulty sourcing personal protective equipment and increased demand for medicines home delivery, community pharmacies in England dealt with 55,441 minor illness concerns and 71,629 requests for urgent medicines supply. As of the end of April, the most common symptoms generating a CPCS referral included “sore throat and/or hoarse voice”, “lower back pain”, “headache” and “wrist, hand or finger pain or swelling”.
Commenting on the latest CPCS figures, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) CEO Simon Dukes told C+D yesterday (June 2): “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the CPCS has continued to support patients needing urgent supplies of prescription medicines or help to manage minor conditions.
“This has been a phenomenally busy period for all pharmacies. Helping large numbers of patients to manage minor conditions or to access vital medicines without needing to see a GP or another healthcare professional has been just one of many critical roles played by the sector.”
An NHS spokesperson told C+D yesterday that the CPCS is “delivering benefits for tens of thousands of patients and has been playing a particularly important role as the NHS responds to the greatest health emergency in its 72-year history”.
NHSE&I told C+D that it updated the NHS Pathways algorithms on March 24 to ensure that patients with COVID-19 symptoms were directed to the NHS 111 COVID Clinical Assessment Service and not to pharmacies. This allowed call handlers to continue to send patients with non-COVID-19 symptoms to pharmacies where clinically appropriate, the national commissioner said.
NHS 111 call operators highlight to patients the importance of contacting the pharmacy by phone as part of the CPCS referral process, NHSE&I said, adding that this message was “strengthened” in early March.
Chief pharmaceutical officer for England Keith Ridge said in a letter to pharmacies on March 19 that they should consider contacting the patient via phone once a CPCS referral has been received. If appropriate, the referral can then be completed over the phone, according to the letter.
Pharmacies who registered to offer the CPCS service as of or after March 23 were not made live for the service. However, the registration process resumed on June 1 and “once a pharmacy registration has been processed this will be communicated”, NHSE&I said in a COVID-19 primary care bulletin published last month (May 18).
Meanwhile, CPCS referrals from GP practices to community pharmacy – which are being piloted across England and were expected to be rolled out nationally “as early as April”, according to the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework – were not extended due to COVID-19. This followed negotiations between the Department of Health and Social Care and PSNC.