A total of £3,043,823.51 was paid to the 10,629 pharmacies that were registered to deliver the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) as of May 31, NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) said in response to a freedom of information (FOI) request by C+D.
This means that pharmacies were paid an average of approximately £47.73 a month for the claims they submitted for each referral they completed between October 29 – when the service was launched – and the end of April, working on the basis that pharmacies can start to claim and be paid for each month's consultations at the beginning of the following month.
Contractors have six months to submit their claims for a completed referral to NHSBSA, which means the £3m figure may not be reflective of the total number of CPCS consultations completed by contractors between October and April.
Pharmacists could start claiming for their CPCS referrals from December, which included consultations carried out between October 29 and the end of November.
The sum paid to pharmacies in the service's first six months does not include the payments made to them for early sign-ups to the service, NHSBSA said.
Through those incentives, pharmacies registering to provide the service by December 1 last year and January 15 received a supplement of £900 and £600 respectively.
Claiming the £14 CPCS fee
Contractors can claim a consultation fee of £14 for each completed urgent medicines supply or minor illness referral they make under the service – but no payment can be claimed if the pharmacist cannot make “any contact with the referred patient”, according to the CPCS service specification.
NHSBSA can accept claims from contractors “within six months of completion of a referral”, although claims made later than this will not be processed, NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) wrote in the service specification.
An Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp) spokesperson told C+D yesterday (August 13) that the organisation believes the £14 fee is “unfortunately not sufficient and, in some cases, it is loss-making considering the time the pharmacist puts in”.
“A high percentage of CPCS [referrals] use up pharmacists’ time but are ultimately found not to qualify for payment,” they added.
But pharmacist Andre Yeung, who helped to formulate the pilot that inspired the service, told C+D yesterday that the £14 fee “still feels about right for the moment, based on what I know about these consultations”.
He would be “surprised if community pharmacies still get paid by volume” in the future, he added. Instead, he thinks the service “will go to a flat fee”, which contractors will receive quarterly or yearly, “for being a high-quality CPCS provider”.
The service is an “opportunity for community pharmacy to show its ability to deliver a high quality acute national service that patients and NHS systems really benefit from”, Mr Yeung said, a view that is also shared by the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA).
A spokesperson from the CCA told C+D yesterday that while there were fewer referrals from NHS 111 to community pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic, “pharmacy teams worked tirelessly… to ensure the demand for the supply of vital medicines continued to [be] met both safely and effectively, while providing advice and reassurance to the public”.
“CPCS shows the vital role that community pharmacy has in supporting patients and taking pressure off the wider NHS,” they added.
“We need fair funding for contractors to continue their vital role, particularly as the NHS prepares for the potential double whammy of winter pressures and COVID-19”.
As of May 18, more than 300,000 patients with a minor illness or in need of urgent medicines supply were referred to community pharmacy in just over six months since the launch of the CPCS service, C+D reported in June.
Community pharmacies handled 127,070 of these referrals between February and April, when the COVID-19 pandemic started taking its toll on the UK.