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Steve Barclay: Pharmacy First an ‘opportunity’ to solve GP appointment crisis

A ‘Pharmacy First’ model would allow pharmacists “to make better use” of their skills and drastically improve patients' access to general practice, health secretary Steve Barclay has said. 

Ensuring that “the wider primary care force operate at the top of their licence” is vital to reducing the pressures facing general practice with appointment bookings, Mr Barclay revealed during a House of Commons debate on the NHS workforce on Tuesday (December 6).

“It is not simply about the number of GPs...but it is about the wider workforce, the use of technology and the use of different patient pathways”, he told MPs.

“It is also why we have the opportunity, through Pharmacy First, to make better use of what the pharmacists throughout our pharmacy network can do,” he said.

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

Other measures the government is exploring include “better use of telephony in the cloud and the latest that technology offers”.

He told MPs: “It is also about access for patients and avoiding the 8am Monday crunch when lots of people make calls at the same time.”

It comes as Mr Barclay revealed last month that the government was “looking at how we progress Pharmacy First".

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) CEO Janet Morrison told C+D at the time that 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.


DH: Increasing pharmacist support “over the next 18 months”


A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) told C+D today (December 8) that “it is important people can access the right support at the right time and part of this involves exploring what more community pharmacies can do to support the NHS”. 

Read more: Second chance for Steve Barclay as health sec after Thérèse Coffey ousted

It comes as former health secretary Thérèse Coffey set out her intentions to reform primary care in a policy paper unveiled in September.

In the paper, she envisaged giving pharmacists “more prescribing powers” and expanding “the range of services available from community pharmacies”.


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 "not afraid to learn lessons, if that means that we have to learn from what Scotland has done".

But National Pharmacy Association (NPA) chair, Andrew Lane warned on Monday (December 5) that the community pharmacy sector requires “urgent intervention” from the government and NHS England “to prevent cracks opening up in patient care”.

He added: “It stands to reason that if the current financial envelope is too small to sustain current service levels, it cannot support new NHS developments like the much-trailed ‘Pharmacy First’ scheme for common ailments.”


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