Pharmacists will be able to dispense urgent repeat medication to patients who have run out, under new government plans.
The Pharmacy Urgent Care pilot programme will see patients in certain parts of England who contact NHS 111 for their urgent repeat prescription medication directed to community pharmacies instead of out of hours practices.
David Mowat, community health and care minister, announced the programme last night at the Pharmacy Business Awards last night, adding that the pilot would start in December 2016.
Mowat also announced that NHS England is developing a programme that will allow NHS 111 to refer patients with urgent minor ailments, such as earaches and sore throats to community pharmacists for advice.
This programme will be developed and evaluated between December 2016 and April 2018.
Mowat said the plans for community pharmacy are part of a move to begin “modernising the sector”.
He said: “This new scheme will make more use of pharmacists’ expertise, as well as freeing up vital time for GPs and reducing visits to A&E for urgent repeat medicines.”
However in a joint statement from PSNC and the other pharmacy organisations, they said they were disappointed the scheme had only been commissioned as a pilot and warned that it would be difficult to deliver any new services or pilots in the midst of the proposed funding cuts.
They said: “This announcement has clearly been timed to draw attention away from the looming cuts, but it once again highlights the contradiction at the heart of the Department’s position – asking pharmacies to develop new roles and services whilst stripping away the investment necessary to make it happen.”
Pharmacists in the North East have been testing a similar scheme to refer urgent repeat prescriptions to community pharmacists since 2014.
According to the Department of Health, the programme was well received by patients, with fewer attending A&E for their repeat prescriptions.
The scheme was also said to have supported the resilience of the local urgent and emergency care system.
Mike Maguire, a community pharmacist from Middlesbrough, said the launch of the pilot programme is “great news for patients and the NHS”.
He said: “There’s nothing more frustrating for a patient than accidently running out of medicines at a time when their GP is closed.
“Community pharmacy is a great asset to patients and it is critical for the NHS that we utilise their expertise and availability effectively. This service is a big step towards achieving this.”
Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer at the DH, added that the pilot will further the integration of community pharmacy into the NHS urgent care system, “and to make better use of the clinical skills of community pharmacists and their teams”.
He added: “It is a step towards the new role for community pharmacy which we have set out where it is no longer on the sidelines but is an integral part of the NHS’s new models of patient-centred care.”