NHS England announced last month that the next stage of its Digital Minor Illness Referral Service (DMIRS) pilot 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 commissioning body has since told C+D that pharmacies will receive £14 for each consultation completed following a GP referral – the same amount received for completing referrals from NHS111.
The payments cover participating in the pilot, completing documentation, taking part in the evaluation and completing system training, NHS England explained last week (June 26).
NHS England’s director of primary care strategy Ed Waller reiterated at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) conference that the first pilot sites – in the Cheshire, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cumbria and Greater Manchester areas – were due to go live in June. However, C+D understands that the majority of areas will go live in July.
The commissioning body estimates that 6% of all GP consultations – 20.4 million appointments per year – could be safely transferred to a community pharmacist if the service is rolled out nationally.
Important sector development
Cheshire and Wirral local pharmaceutical committee (LPC) chief executive Adam Irvine – who has several pharmacies in his area piloting the service this month – said setting up digital referral pathways between GP practices and pharmacies is “really important”.
“It is a positive way to get GPs and GP staff to refer to pharmacies for the things they know pharmacies can do well,” he told C+D.
“Once we have the pathways in place, we can expand what referrals we take in the future.”
While community pharmacists are “without doubt” very busy, the referral service is remunerated, “so there is support for pharmacies” to carry it out, Mr Irvine said.
Surge of phone calls?
One pharmacist involved in the pilot, who wished to remain anonymous, told C+D they are concerned there may be “a surge of phone calls at 9am” from patients looking to book their appointments, “as the surgeries are open [earlier] than us”.
However, Mr Irvine said the pilot service “shouldn’t be a hindrance” and pharmacies in his area have shown an interest in trialling it.
The LPC expects the pilot to involve “a reshaping of what pharmacies already have, rather than investing in new things”, he added.