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Pharmacy First set for national launch ‘by end of 2023’ following consultation

The long-awaited Pharmacy First national service could launch in England “by the end of 2023”, NHS England (NHSE) has revealed.

NHSE today (May 9) released its “delivery plan for recovering access to primary care” – also known as the primary care recovery plan – which announced a community pharmacy funding injection of “up to £645 million” over two years to “expand” services.

It said that the cash will fund a Pharmacy First service as well as expansions to the pharmacy oral contraceptive and blood pressure programmes – although it remains unclear how this will be divided.

Read more: Government injects £645m investment into community pharmacy

The plan set out an ambition to launch the Pharmacy First service “by the end of 2023”, although it stressed that this is “subject to consultation”.

The exact launch date will be confirmed once negotiations between the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) are completed.


Prescribing under PGDs


Pharmacy First will allow community pharmacists to provide prescription medication to patients for seven common conditions, without patients needing to see a GP or other doctor beforehand, NHSE said.

These seven conditions are:

  • Sinusitis
  • Sore throat
  • Earache
  • Infected insect bite
  • Impetigo
  • Shingles
  • Uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women

Read more: PSNC ‘still awaiting news’ on Pharmacy First service amid October launch hints

Pharmacists will be allowed to supply prescription-only medicines to treat patients with these conditions, including antibiotics and antivirals “where clinically appropriate”, NHSE said.

These medicines would be provided under patient group directions (PGDs), which allow pharmacists to supply medicines to patients who meet certain criteria following a consultation, it added.

“For some conditions general practice involvement is not necessary if it is clear to patients where to get care and it is clinically safe to do so directly,” NHSE said.

Read more: Public ‘overwhelmingly’ backs Pharmacy First, PSNC survey reveals

NHSE also announced that it will “support research to ensure a consistent approach to antibiotic and antiviral use between general practice and community pharmacy”.

National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) funding for this research is already confirmed and commissioning will take place after consultation, it said.


Negotiations underway


PSNC said today that the way funding would be distributed across Pharmacy First and the oral contraception and blood pressure programmes would be subject to “detailed negotiations”.

It described the funding as “an initial investment”, adding that “future investments will depend on outcomes and future negotiations”.

The pharmacy negotiator said that discussions on the plans “have already commenced” and that it “hopes to be able to report back to the sector over the summer”.

Read more: PSNC: Pharmacy First must not be left to ‘piecemeal’ local commissioning

“Service details and funding allocations” are now subject to negotiation “as usual”, as are the “cost of IT integration and marketing of pharmacy services to the public”, it added.

“Until the detailed negotiations have concluded we will not know the extent and speed with which this investment will help the sector through the immense challenges that it currently faces,” PSNC said.

Read more: Pharmacy First service ‘most likely’ route to new funding, PSNC boss predicts

“We want to get extra funding flowing to pharmacies as soon as possible,” it added, cautioning that IT systems and other “necessary enablers” must be in place before the launch.

“We have been working for many months to build support for a fully funded Pharmacy First service and hope these will be constructive negotiations with a very positive outcome for pharmacies and their patients”, it said.

The commissioning of an appropriately funded Pharmacy First service would be a “huge win” for the sector, it added.


Potential to save up to 10m GP appointments per year


NHSE said it wants to “build on [the] success” of existing pharmacy services, saying that the new and expanded offer would “increase convenience for the public”.

It recognised that expanding pharmacy services “requires new funding” and said the plans “mark the next step in the journey” of making pharmacists “the first port of call for minor common conditions” and making “better use of the clinical skills in community pharmacy teams”.

Read more: Local Pharmacy First scheme in place for 20 years to be axed this month

The recovery plan projected that diverting GP appointments to the Pharmacy First, oral contraceptive and blood pressure services could save general practices up to 10 million appointments a year once the services reach scale.

Chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in England Thorrun Govind said that the success of Pharmacy First will depend on its on-the-ground implementation.

“The funding must flow to the frontline who need to be supported to give patients the quality service they deserve,” she said.

Check the C+D site for the latest coverage on this developing story

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