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DH hints at Pharmacy First timeline as it heralds bigger role for sector

Amid growing interest in a 'Pharmacy First' model in Parliament, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) has confirmed to C+D that community pharmacies will see an increase in support for clinical services "over the next 18 months".

A spokesperson for the DH told C+D yesterday (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”.

While pharmacies “already provide a range of clinical services”, the spokesperson confirmed, “over the next 18 months we will be increasing the support pharmacists can provide”.

It followed questions posed by C+D confirming whether the DH is actively planning to implement a ‘Pharmacy First’ model in England and the timeframe it is considering.

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

It also comes as health secretary Steve Barclay revealed during a House of Commons debate on Tuesday (December 6) that a ‘Pharmacy First’ model would both allow pharmacists “to make better use” of their skills and drastically improve patients' access to general practice.


PSNC: “If they are ready to negotiate, so are we”


Last month, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) CEO Janet Morrison told C+D that the negotiator “put forward a proposal for a fully funded national Pharmacy First service during our negotiations earlier this year”.

PSNC’s director of NHS services, Alastair Buxton, confirmed to C+D today (December 9) that it has been talking to the DH and NHS England “about the many benefits of a fully funded Pharmacy First service over the last year”.

He added: “If they are ready to negotiate, so are we.”

However, any discussions around a proposed ‘Pharmacy First’ model “will need to include consideration of the current very fragile state of the community pharmacy network and the need for additional funding”, he urged.

Read more: ‘Critical situation’: PSNC moots reduced opening hours amid NHS strike chaos

It comes as the CEO of the Company Chemists’ Association, Malcolm Harrison also told C+D on Monday (December 5), that while the body welcomes plans for a ‘Pharmacy First’ scheme in England, “after eight years of funding cuts, the pressures on community pharmacies are simply untenable”.

He added: “Spiralling inflation, rising costs of medicines and workforce shortages has put the pharmacy network on the brink.”

Any ‘Pharmacy First’ plans put forward by the government “must be funded appropriately”, he said.

“Pharmacies cannot ride to the rescue for free.”


Government history with Pharmacy First


Last month, Mr Barclay first revealed that the government was “looking at how we progress Pharmacy First".

It follows comments made by former health secretary Sajid Javid last year, who admitted that the government hoped to implement a 'Pharmacy First' model that would encourage patients with minor illnesses to visit their pharmacy, rather than seeing their GP.

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

"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, earlier this year in June, then-pharmacy minister Maria Caulfield also 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".

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