When NHS 111 was launched, it became clear that referrals to pharmacies were low compared with referrals elsewhere. This was due to the fact that the NHS Pathways clinical algorithm was too risk averse, often sending patients to services designed for people with more complex needs. This meant that patients with minor ailments were being referred to the wrong services, and these often had limited capacity.

Our Directory of Services (DoS) team identified early on that more cases could be dealt with by a pharmacist. They developed a workshop with local pharmacy leads, CCGs and the London Pharmaceutical Committee to outline ways to increase referrals to pharmacy. This identified ways to improve the DoS, and the findings were presented to NHS England.

Building on the outcomes of our workshop, NHS England undertook a pharmacy pilot as part of their winter resilience programme. As a result of this, patients who have minor conditions can now speak to a pharmacist directly through NHS 111. In addition, NHS 111 callers can be referred to a pharmacist for an urgent repeat prescription when their GP is not available.