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UPDATED: Launch date for national contraception service announced

NHS England (NHSE) has named a start date for tier one of the pharmacy contraception service, according to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC).

The service will launch across pharmacies in England on April 24, PSNC revealed yesterday evening (April 13).

The negotiator said that it had not agreed this start date for the service with NHSE, and reiterated its view that no new or expanded services should be rolled out this year unless the government stumps up extra funding for community pharmacies.

C+D has approached NHSE for comment.

Read more: When will the pharmacy contraception service launch?

PSNC chief executive Janet Morrison said the announcement had been made at a time when community pharmacies "are having to work harder and harder for less money and many are at breaking point".

It comes as the negotiator's pressures survey, which it published yesterday, revealed that almost eight in 10 pharmacy owners (78%) are “extremely concerned” about their business finances, with just 7% saying that their pharmacy is "profitable".

Read more: Just 7% of pharmacy owners say their business is ‘profitable’, reveals PSNC

Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp) chief executive, Dr Leyla Hannbeck, warned that while her members "have always been keen and proactive to deliver pharmacy services...the current model where pharmacies are asked to do more for less and services [keep] coming from the same global sum is unsustainable and cannot continue".

"It is disappointing to see that during these tough times when our sector is barely able to keep its ahead above the water and with our workforce being exhausted we are being asked to deliver more services without any additional funding or resource," she continued.

Dr Hannbeck said the news made it "clear that the current PSNC approach is not working and it requires change".

"It must also be understood very clearly by both the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) and PSNC that, whether negotiated or imposed pharmacies, need time to understand, plan and integrate new services into the very busy, business-as-usual days,” she added.

Ms Morrison told C+D that the launch of the service had "not been agreed by PSNC" and that the government was "well aware that [its] decision to set a start date is unwelcome".

The negotiator has "always been clear...that services should not be forced on the sector and neither should they have a short notice period for implementation", she continued.

"However, in this case we do not believe most pharmacy contractors and their teams currently have the capacity to implement the service and each contractor will need to assess whether it is realistic for them to roll out this optional service in their pharmacy.”


What does the service involve?


Participating pharmacies will earn £18 per consultation and a set-up fee of £900, paid in instalments, according to a draft service specification published by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) in December.

Under tier one of the contraception service, pharmacy teams will be able to continue providing oral contraception under a patient group direction (PGD) to patients who were first prescribed it via primary care or sexual health clinics.

Meanwhile, the forthcoming tiers two and three of the service will see pharmacists able to initiate the supply of oral contraception via a PGD and managing the use of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), excluding intrauterine systems and intrauterine devices.

The fouth tier of the service will include the initiation of LARCs.

Read more: Pharmacy contraception service launch delayed over lack of IT support

PSNC revealed at the end of last year that the rollout of the contraception service had been pushed back from January to "early 2023", although it noted at the time that an "exact start date" had not yet been agreed.

The delay in launching the service was levelled at a lack of  IT support, with PSNC director of serivces Alastiar Buxton saying the negotiator had “sought a delay to the start of the service to allow time for the necessary IT support to be developed”.

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.

This is a breaking news story. More to follow...


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