Castlegate Pharmacy, Cockermouth has already offered “a handful” of patients the free video call service since it went live last week, superintendent pharmacist Mark Stanhope told C+D on Thursday (August 10).
When patients present at the pharmacy, staff put a call into the out-of-hours support team running the service – Cumbria Health on Call (CHOC) – who then arrange for a GP to video call the patient in the pharmacy’s consultation room, Mr Stanhope explained.
The GP consultation is available during the hours that the 100-hour pharmacy is open and when CHOC operates – from 6.30pm - 8am on weekdays and all weekend.
“It’s better than a telephone call, but is nowhere as good as face-to-face [care],” Mr Stanhope said. However, face-to-face care from the nearest GP surgery in rural Cumbria means a “60-mile round-trip” he stressed.
While CHOC is funded by the NHS, Castlegate Pharmacy does not receive a payment for hosting the patients' GP sessions, Mr Stanhope said.
“Of course we all want funding for everything we do,” he said, but this is a step in improving GP and pharmacist relations.
As the GP gives the patient the final diagnosis the pharmacist is ineligible for a minor ailments fee, he added.
“One-stop-shop” for patients
CHOC information management and technology manager Richard McGregor said that the service makes the pharmacy a “one-stop shop” for patients medically, as patients can receive medicines prescribed in the consultation from Castlegate.
The cost to CHOC of installing the camera and screen is “about £400”, Mr McGregor said, “nothing really” for the ability to offer a GP video consultation. CHOC continues to own the technology after it has been installed and provides Castlegate with technical support, he added.
CHOC would like to make the service available in all the county’s “132” pharmacies, but Mr Mcgregor acknowledged this would be a “massive ask”.
For other Cumbrian pharmacies to be eligible to adopt the scheme, their opening hours would have to crossover with those of CHOC, Mr McGregor said.
“The technology is going to be there for the full 24-hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year," he said. "So if there were other healthcare professionals and GP services that there was a need to connect to, then I'm sure that's something the pharmacy could pick up.”
The service means CHOC's GPs are "able to connect with patients closer to their homes, with the pharmacist as a community helper".