Last reviewed 14 January 2020

Under a "pharmacy first" scheme launched last October, NHS 111 has offered over 100,000 patients same-day referrals to a pharmacist in a move to ease pressure on GP practices.

In the first 10 weeks of the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS), a total of 114,275 patients with minor illnesses, or those who urgently needed medicines, were directed from NHS 111 to a consultation with their local pharmacist.

This comprised 64,067 requests for urgent medication for conditions such as diabetes or asthma, and clinical advice provided to 50,208 people with a minor illness such as a sore throat or earache.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the scheme has helped to relieve pressure on GP surgeries and the wider NHS by putting patients in direct contact with community pharmacists.

The highest number of same-day pharmacist referrals were made in the northwest of England with pharmacists receiving 20,972 referrals most of which were for urgent medicine supplies.

As part of the "NHS Long-term Plan", a total of 10,610 pharmacies have registered with the CPCS since its launch, encouraging the public to make better use of clinical expertise closer to home. The approach is funded through the £2.592 billion per year, agreed in the five-year community pharmacy contractual framework that sets out an expanded role for community pharmacy.

The Government confirmed that, subject to successful evaluation of pilots, the CPCS is expected to expand to referrals from general practice by the end of 2020. An April 2020 rollout date had originally been planned.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said the approach makes life easier for patients. He said: "I want to see more patients with minor illnesses assessed close to home, saving them unnecessary trips to A&E or the GP, and helping people get the care and advice they need quicker...we want every patient with a minor illness to think ‘pharmacy first’."

Although the figures look promising, GP leaders have highlighted that patients seen by pharmacists may still have seen a GP subsequently or had to also visit Accident and Emergency (A&E). British Medical Association (BMA) General Practitioners Committee (GPC) Chair Dr Richard Vautrey pointed out: "Community pharmacists play a hugely important role in healthcare, and directing more patients to them is certainly a sensible thing to do in situations that don’t demand GP or emergency attention.

"While these results are promising, however, we cannot assume that everyone who contacted NHS 111 and was directed to a pharmacist still didn’t go to their GP or local emergency department."