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When will the pharmacy contraception service launch?

After the national pharmacy contraception service launch was delayed from January to “early 2023”, NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) tendering documents have hinted at a possible start date.

Though originally due to start on January 11, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) announced last month (December 16) that it had secured “a delay to the start of the service to allow time for the necessary IT support to be developed”.

At the time, PSNC said the national pharmacy contraception service was “expected to commence in early 2023” although an exact start date was “yet to be agreed”.

Now a notice published by NHSBSA – which called on software suppliers to register their interest in facilitating delivery of the service – this week (January 3) indicated that the service could be launched in pharmacies in March.

Read more: Case study: What's it like to offer the pharmacy contraception service?

Suppliers that secure a contract will have to develop, test and go live with software that will feed data from pharmacies to NHSBSA’s Manage Your Service (MYS) portal by “the commencement of the advanced service on 1 March – March 31 2023”, NHSBSA said.

NHS England told C+D this week (January 4) that it intends to communicate the service’s exact launch date early this year.


Contract timeline


Software suppliers have until midday on January 11 to sign up to provide IT support to pharmacies rolling out the service, the notice said. 

For those successful, the contract will begin on January 18 and run until March 31 2024, it added.

Read more: NHSE&I 'excited' by pharmacy contraception pilot, as it extends scheme

According to the timeline set out by NHSBSA, pharmacy contractor access to the interface must be delivered by March 1, assurance testing must be completed by March 19 and “successful transmission of a live service message” must be available by March 26.

The advanced service specification, which is set to be published on February 24, will outline the data contractors will be required to submit via the software so that NHSBSA can reimburse them for the service, the notice said.


No cost to contractors


“Suppliers will be paid a fixed fee (£20,000 excluding VAT) for successful development, testing and go-live of application programming interfaces (API) when completed in accordance with NHSBSA standards and completion dates,” NHSBSA said.

But it told suppliers that “there will be no charges levied to the pharmacy contractor” regarding the software.

Read more: Locations of 44 pharmacies piloting NHS contraception service in England

It said: “We expect that no charges will be levied to the pharmacy contractors for the term of the agreement. Entering into this agreement means you will be receiving £20k, excluding VAT, for developing this service and this includes support and claim management when it is live.”

 NHSBSA added that it requires suppliers to have access to the following systems:

  • The personal demographics service
  • Electronic health records
  • Summary care records, with one-click functionality “preferable but not essential”
  • The electronic prescription service tracker
  • NICE clinical knowledge summaries
  • The Dictionary of Medicines and Devices

Access to the systems will need to be certified by NHS Digital, to be evidenced by suppliers if requested, and suppliers must enter a non-processor agreement, NHSBSA said.


The road to a pharmacy contraception service


NHSBSA published a draft service specification for tier one of the advanced pharmacy contraception service last month.

Under the first tier of the service, pharmacies will provide oral contraception to patients first prescribed it via primary care or a sexual health clinic, while tier two will see pharmacists initiate supply.

Tiers three and four will involve “ongoing monitoring and management” of repeat long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), excluding intrauterine systems and intrauterine devices” and initiation of LARCs respectively.

Read more: Pharmacists deliver 1,400 consultations under contraception pilot

The service specification confirmed that participating pharmacies will receive £18 per consultation and a set-up fee of £900, paid in instalments.

But PSNC warned that despite the delay to the service’s launch, pharmacies still may not have capacity to deliver it.

PSNC unveiled plans for a national rollout of the service – which pharmacies first piloted in September 2021 – earlier this year, alongside the outcome of its negotiations for the fourth and fifth years of the five-year community pharmacy contract.

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