NHS England London – the regional body that commissions pharmacy services across the capital – told C+D last week (July 16) it will stop the minor ailments service in 14 London boroughs (see below), to adhere to national NHS guidance advising GPs to “curb prescribing” of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for 35 conditions.
“The current service specifications are not fit for purpose, and do not fit with current pathways and the national development of pharmacists’ roles.
“Patients are accessing the [minor ailments] service as a regular repeat service for medication such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, rather than a service to manage minor illnesses that are acute in nature,” it said.
NHS England London recommended decommissioning the scheme last month (June 18), following a review into the enhanced services it inherited from Primary Care Trusts after an NHS reorganisation in April 2013.
“The deployment of pharmacists in general practice (a national initiative) will support the management of appointments for minor illnesses and improved signposting of patients to community pharmacies for the management of self-care,” NHS England London Region added.
The minor ailments service will be decommissioned once a “go-live” date has been agreed for the implementation of the digital minor ailments referral service, the commissioning body confirmed.
London will become an “extended pilot site” for the digital scheme, which is currently being piloted in the north-east of England. However, NHS England stressed to C+D that the service “is not a replacement for the minor ailments scheme”.
“Daunting” prospect for pharmacy
A pharmacy contractor in one of the boroughs where the scheme will be scrapped told C+D the prospect was “daunting”.
Raj Radia, owner of Spring Pharmacy in Hackney, said: “There is a lot of deprivation where we are. People will still wait for a bottle of paracetamol at a GP surgery because they can’t afford to buy one, or they will go to A&E.”
Mr Radia claimed smoking, obesity, and mental health is a big problem in the area, which is “one of the most deprived areas in the country”.
“60,000 patients a year will turn to GPs”
The Health in Hackney scrutiny commission – a council group that scrutinises local health and social care services – warned NHS England in a letter dated March 16 that an additional 60,000 patients in the area could “seek scarce GP appointments” every year if the service was not available.
But NHS England London told C+D that “clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) that have already decommissioned the scheme have seen no impact on GP appointments”.
Councillor Ann Munn, chair of the scrutiny commission, said there was a strong business case to continue funding the service as it would save the NHS money in the long-term.
Ms Munn has written to NHS England London to request that funding for the scheme be devolved to City and Hackney CCG to commission an “equivalent” service – with a decision expected this week.
Earlier this month, C+D reported that Fylde and Wyre CCG decommissioned its ‘Pharmacy+’ minor ailments service on July 1, as the NHS prescribing guidance meant the scheme had “naturally [come] to a close”.