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‘Devil in the detail’: Sector cautiously welcomes plan to expand services

Pharmacy leaders have cautiously welcomed plans to expand the provision of community pharmacy services in England as part of a £645 million investment into the sector, but have stressed that detail remains scant.

NHS England (NHSE) and the government today announced (May 9) that a national Pharmacy First service will be launched in winter 2023, “subject to consultation”.

The service is part of a two-year £645m government investment designed to “expand community pharmacy services” in England, NHSE said.

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

The existing pharmacy contraception service and the hypertension case-finding service will also benefit from the funding, although it remains unclear how the sum will be divided.

Pharmacy leaders across the sector reacted with cautious optimism to the news, with the pharmacy negotiator calling it the “biggest investment in pharmacies for many years”.

But representatives for the sector also pointed out that the plan is lacking detail and cannot solve all the problems facing community pharmacies.


“Vote of confidence”


Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) chief executive Malcolm Harrison welcomed the announcement, saying it is a “real vote of confidence” in the profession.

He added that funding for the contraception, blood pressure and Pharmacy First services is “critical to enable delivery” and that patients will see “an immediate benefit” once it is released.

And Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) England chair Thorrun Govind called the plans “a real game-changer” for patients as well as a “further endorsement of the crucial role that pharmacies play”.

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

“We're pleased to see significant investment in [the Pharmacy First] scheme for England, which is already successful in Scotland and Wales,” she said, adding that the way the service is implemented on the ground will be “crucial” to its success.


“Devil will be in the detail”


However, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) stressed that while the plans are “a very welcome step” and the negotiator is “looking forward to discussing the details” with the government and NHSE, the “devil will be in the detail”.


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


“Our negotiating team are deeply aware of and very focused on the immense and underlying challenges that pharmacies are still grappling with”, PSNC chief executive Janet Morrison said.


“It is not yet clear the extent to which this investment will be enough to help the sector through these pressures and our strategic work to lay the ground for future [contract] negotiations will continue at pace alongside the negotiations on this significant and very positive policy win,” she added.



“A step in the right direction”



CEO of Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) Dr Leyla Hannbeck said that the measures “will be welcome news by pharmacy teams the length and breadth of the country”.


However, she added that while the plan “is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to address the funding crisis, workforce challenges and medicines supply issues that have brought pharmacies to their knees, causing more and more pharmacies to sadly close their doors permanently”.


Read more: Government rejects calls for ‘pharmacy workforce plan’


Meanwhile, National Pharmacy Association (NPA) chief executive Mark Lyonette said that the announcement was a “long overdue step”.


“Of course we will want to look carefully at the details, but from the initial information this appears to be a momentous development, which has the potential to radically change the outlook for our sector, as well as benefiting patients,” he added.



“Not an overnight solution”


Pharmacy membership organisation Numark, which represents over 5,000 community pharmacies, also welcomed the announcement but warned that “it will not be an overnight solution”.

Nigel Swift, managing director of Rowlands - which is part of Numark - said that making “better use of community pharmacy is a no-brainer”, however, “implementing these new services successfully will take several months”.

Read more: MPs push government for funded pharmacy workforce plan

“In the meantime, the government needs to help people understand when it is most appropriate to see your GP or your local pharmacy team” so that people understand what pharmacy first “means in practice”, he added.

And he stressed that the sector needs to understand whether “this is a one-off cash injection - after years of funding cuts that have led to hundreds of pharmacy closures - or a long-term commitment to improving patient access to healthcare through local pharmacies”.

Mr Swift called for a “10-year strategy and funding commitment for community pharmacy in England”.

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

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