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Pharmacy leaders hit out at ‘astonishingly low’ NHS 111 referral rate

NHS reforms The NPA, Numark and Co-operative Pharmacy have all criticised the 'statistically insignificant' number of pharmacy referrals from NHS 111

Fewer than 1 per cent of callers to the NHS 111 helpline have been referred to pharmacy in the service's pilot, the Department of Health (DH) has revealed.

The DH said it expected this referral rate to increase as the service, which is designed to be a one-stop resource for patients with non-emergency health queries, rolled out nationally this year. But pharmacy leaders branded it "astonishingly low" and criticised the government for failing to recognise the value of pharmacy.

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The DH said the service, which launched as a pilot in 2010, is  referring 5 to 13 per cent of all callers to self-care. The DH confirmed it would be up to local clinicians and commissioners to decide "the most appropriate local services to refer callers to".

But Numark managing director John D'Arcy told C+D that the 0.7 per cent referral rate to pharmacy was "almost statistically insignificant".

"Politicians always say pharmacy is very accessible, so I would ask why 99.3 per cent of calls are going elsewhere."

This could lead to people waiting for help unnecessarily, Mr D'Arcy added. "Just to ignore pharmacy suggests there's either something very interesting about the populations [where the helpline service was piloted] or their system of triage is wrong."

The NPA and Co-operative Pharmacy added weight to the criticism. "It would be a huge concern if the NHS 111 system clogged up GP surgeries, out-of-hours provision and A&E when pharmacy is the best first port of call for a wide range of health concerns," argued Gareth Jones, public affairs manager for the NPA. And the Co-operative's superintendent pharmacist Janice Perkins stressed that the service had not recognised pharmacy's potential – instead referring "too many minor problems" to GPs.

Croydon LPC secretary Andrew McCoig suggested operators could be referring patients to more expensive providers out of fear they had misdiagnosed the conditions. "With NHS Direct, pharmacy was supposed to be the first port of call but, in practice, the call handlers got nervous and sent people to A&E. But I'm astonished the figure is as low as 0.7 per cent," he said.

The criticisms follow concerns raised last October when North East London LPC challenged the apparent failure to include references and signposts to pharmacy in a section of the NHS Choices website launched to promote Self Care Week 2011. The omission had been an oversight, NHS Choices told the LPC at the time.


Have you seen an uplift in patients referred by the 111 line?

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1 Comments

Ryszard Cygan, Superintendent Pharmacist

Once again, this is nothing more than the usual hypocrisy that we have come to know from Mr Vaz!
Who is he to preach what is moral or not in pharmacy?
In 2002, Mr Vaz was suspended from the House of Commons for a month for making false allegations against a former policewomen. Moral eh? I
Also,if I recall correctly, according to a Daily Telegratph investigation, his second home expenses, ranked 83 out of 647 MP's in 2008/09 at £23,831 and bearing in mind that Mr Vaz lives in Stanmore, a 45 minute journey time from Parliament the mortgage interest he was claiming was on a flat in Westminster a few miles away!. Moral eh?
As part of the last Labour government Mr Vaz served as Europe minister. I don't recall him complaining about how "immoral" it was for the UK to import medicines from Europe (and allegedly leaving countries such as Greece and Spain short of medicines) during his term. All we saw was the increase in the clawback on pharmacies, reigning in the extra profit made by pharmacy to the benefit of the NHS which over the years has saved many millions of pounds through parallel importing. As Europe minister, I am sure he would have defended the free movement of goods throughout Europe to the end!
Has Mr Vaz ever looked closely why his local pharmacy may not have medicines in stock when he needs them?
Has he ever asked himself why some pharmacists have resorted to exporting medicines?
Mr Vaz, if we are not careful there may well be no local pharmacy, let alone medicines, unless we resolve the hopeless pharmacy contract that the government you were a part of implemented for pharmacy. Pharmacy is struggling as a result of the current contract arrangements and believe me, as the patent cliff approaches, it will spell the end for many, many pharmacies as Category M implodes.

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