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Increased use of community pharmacy ‘essential’ to NHSE 2023/24 priorities

NHS England (NHSE) has set out that “increasing use of community pharmacies” is “essential” to its set of key priorities for 2023/24, planning guidance has revealed.

NHSE’s priorities and operational planning guidance for 2023/24, published just before Christmas (December 23), set out three “key tasks” for completion over the period.

The first of these – which NHSE deemed an “immediate priority” – was to “recover [the NHS’s] core services and productivity”, including via the “essential action” of “increasing use of community pharmacies”.

The document also said that “moving to self-referral for many community services where GP intervention is not clinically necessary” will be “essential” for achieving the priorities.

Making it “easier for people to access primary care services” will also be “imperative” to recovering core services and productivity, the document added, as this will “improve patient safety, outcomes and experience”.

 

CPCS participation a “key action”

 

NHSE set out a number of “critical, evidence-based actions” that systems and NHS providers must take to deliver its objectives.

Within primary care, it said a “key action” would be to “transfer lower acuity care away from both general practice and NHS 111 by increasing pharmacy participation in the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS)”.

The CPCS initially saw slow uptake among GPs, with just 800 practices signing up to make referrals to pharmacies under the service in the year after its launch in 2020.

Read more: CPCS: Surge in number of GPs referring to pharmacies after incentives

In response, NHSE told GPs in November 2021 that they would only be able access a share of that year’s winter fund if they signed up to the GP CPCS.

But C+D reported in July last year that 4,503 GP practices had signed up to refer patients to community pharmacies under the CPCS – representing about 68% of the GP sector – following the added incentive.

It comes as a study by market researcher Ipsos has revealed that there is “public appetite” to expand the services pharmacies offer.

 

ICBs to take over pharmacy budgets by April

 

Meanwhile, the NHSE document said that it is “moving towards ICBs taking on population healthcare budgets,” including for pharmacy services.

Pharmacy services, as well as ophthalmology and dentistry, will be “fully delegated” to ICBs by April 2023, it said, with “appropriate specialised services delegated from April 2024”.

NHSE said it would support ICBs “as they take on commissioning responsibility” for pharmacy and other services from April 2023, thus “supporting the integration of services”.

“This will enable local systems to design and deliver more joined-up care for their patients and communities,” the document stated.

Read more: RPS calls on ICBs to ‘unlock’ potential of pharmacy in new 10-year strategy

NHSE tasked ICBs with developing plans with their system partners “to meet the national objectives set out in this guidance and the local priorities set by systems”.

“ICBs and NHS primary and secondary care providers are expected to work together to plan and deliver a balanced net system financial position in collaboration with other ICS partners,” it added, with further details to be provided in financial guidance for 2023/24.

In a foreword to the document, NHS CEO Amanda said 2022 had “been an incredibly challenging year for everyone working in the NHS, and arguably tougher than the first years of the pandemic”.

She warned that 2023 and 2024 would “also be challenging”.

The document also reiterated NHSE’s objective to “continue to recruit 26,000 Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) roles by the end of March 2024”.

Read more: Full-time PCN pharmacist and pharmacy technician numbers hit 4.5k

C+D revealed last year that the number of full-time equivalent pharmacists and pharmacy technicians working for a primary care network (PCN) stood at 4,515 as of the end of September, according to NHS data.

Most staff employed by PCNs are funded through ARRS, which was extended in 2021 to include PCN pharmacy technicians.

But Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee CEO Janet Morrison urged the Department of Health and Social Care to stop recruiting ‘clinical’ pharmacists into PCNs and GP practices last October, as it was “absolutely shooting community pharmacy in the foot”.

 

 

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