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Pharmacy First: Steve Barclay reveals government is looking at next steps

The government is "looking at how we progress Pharmacy First", new health secretary Steve Barclay has announced.

Speaking at the annual NHS Providers conference in Liverpool this morning (November 16), Mr Barclay revealed that "GP access is a key priority" for the government.

"When it comes to people’s experience of the NHS, 90% of that is through primary care," he told delegates.

But "we know there is no single solution", he acknowledged.

The government is currently undertaking a range of measures to "ensure" there is a wider workforce within primary care, "so that all the burden doesn’t fall on GPs", he added.

This includes "looking at how we progress Pharmacy First", he confirmed.

Other measures the government is exploring include "looking at the skills mix in primary care, creating more appointments for patients, rolling out the extra phone lines" and "re-designing patient pathways".

The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) is also "exploring ways to do things differently", he added, "such as new areas like home testing".


Government history with Pharmacy First


Last year, former health secretary Sajid Javid revealed that the government hopes to implement a "Pharmacy First" model that would encourage patients with minor illnesses to visit their pharmacy, rather than seeing their GP.

"I want community pharmacies to be at the very heart of primary care, not just treating people, but preventing people from becoming patients in the first place," he said.

Meanwhile, in June, then-pharmacy minister Maria Caulfield told MPs at a Westminster Hall debate in parliament that the government is "considering all options for community pharmacy and how we build on the progress that we have already made".

Responding to comments made by Scottish National Party MP Steven Bonnar on the success of Scotland’s NHS Pharmacy First Service, Ms Caulfield told MPs that "he knows I’m a Pharmacy First supporter".

"I hate to admit it," she added, "but Scotland has taken the lead in that". The government is "not afraid to learn lessons, if that means that we have to learn from what Scotland has done".


PSNC: “An idea whose time has come”


Responding to Mr Barclay’s announcement, Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) CEO Janet Morrison told C+D that Pharmacy First “is an idea whose time has come”.

The negotiator “put forward a proposal for a fully funded national Pharmacy First service during our negotiations earlier this year”, which has since been discussed further with ministers and officials, she added.

While PSNC was “frustrated” the service was not included in years 4 and 5 of the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) – the details of which were unveiled in September – “it is promising to hear the secretary of state is now giving this serious consideration”, Ms Morrison acknowledged.

“With the right funding the service would provide sufficient capacity in pharmacies to be the first port of call for minor ailments giving patients certainty about where to go confident that they will be referred onwards if necessary”, she told C+D.

“It would also help alleviate pressures on GP surgeries at a critical time,” she added.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists' Association (CCA) told C+D that while the CCA has “long advocated for a Pharmacy First model and looks forward to seeing the Secretary of State’s proposals”, the government "must acknowledge the fragile state of the community pharmacy network”. 

It must “urgently” invest in the sector to “successfully deliver a Pharmacy First model that works for pharmacies, patients, and the NHS”, he added. 

“With the right investment, community pharmacies are well positioned to alleviate the pressure on GPs and other overstretched parts of the NHS”, he told C+D. 

C+D has asked the DH to elaborate on how it plans to progress the Pharmacy First model.


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