Under the new NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, which comes into effect from 1 October, patients calling NHS 111 seeking help for minor conditions will be offered an appointment at their local pharmacist.
The service will be expanded over the next five years to include direct referrals from GPs and A&E. The DHSC said that up to 6% of all GP consultations, some 20m appointments a year, could be safely transferred to community pharmacy.
The service is part of a new five-year contract for community pharmacy announced this week. Pharmacies that sign up to provide the service will receive funding this year to help them adapt their business and, from October, they will receive £14 per completed consultation.
Referral from GP practices, which is the next planned stage in the development of the service, could be introduced across England from April 2020.
Reducing pressure on GPs
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said that while the pharmacist consultation service was welcome it was not 'a silver bullet to addressing the pressures in primary care'.
'Introducing a greater variety of roles into the general practice team and making the best possible use of primary care professionals in the community is key to helping relieve the intense resource and workforce pressures facing GPs, and ultimately ensuring our patients get the care they need when they need it,' she said.
However, she added: 'Pharmacists – or any other primary care professional – must not be seen as substitutes for GPs, so efforts to recruit more family doctors, retain the existing GP workforce, and make it easier to return to practice after a career break or period working abroad must continue and be redoubled.'
The new contract will also see pharmacy play a greater role in prevention. New services, including detecting undiagnosed CVD and providing ongoing stop smoking support to patients who start a programme while in secondary care, will be piloted in the coming year with a view to being rolled out nationally.
Services aimed at 'complementing the content of forthcoming primary care network (PCN) service specifications, for example, on early cancer diagnosis and in tackling health inequalities' will also be looked at.
As part of the pharmacy quality scheme for 2019/20 pharmacies will be required to undertake work that links to the QOF's new quality improvement module on prescribing safety, which relates to prescribing of lithium, valporate and NSAIDs.
In addition, from October they will be expected to establish whether all patients with diabetes who present at the pharmacy have had their annual foot and eye check and 'appropriately refer' those who have not.
Pharmacies have also been told to agree a collaborative approach to engaging with their PCN. This should include a single channel of communication, which could involve appointing a lead pharmacist to engage with the PCN on behalf of all the pharmacies in the area.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: 'Pharmacists are integral to community health and I want to move towards the French model, where they offer a wider range of services and play a stronger role in the community.
'Community pharmacies are a vital and trusted part of our NHS, and this five-year deal will ensure more people get support in the most appropriate setting, which in turn helps relieve pressure on the wider health service.'