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All the reaction to NHSE's £645m plan to expand pharmacy services

NHS England (NHSE) yesterday announced a £645 million investment that could see a national Pharmacy First service launched in winter 2023. See how the sector reacted.

NHSE yesterday (May 9) published its new primary care recovery plan announcing a community pharmacy funding injection of “up to £645 million” over two years to “expand” services.

It said that the cash will fund a new Pharmacy First service for England as well as expansions to the existing pharmacy oral contraceptive and blood pressure programmes – “subject to consultation” and negotiations.

The announcement, though lacking in detail, prompted reactions from across the sector - read them in full here.



PSNC: “The devil will be in the detail”


Janet Morrison, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said: “This investment in community pharmacy and its future – the biggest investment in pharmacies for many years – is a huge vote of confidence from the government, the NHS and from ministers.


“It is a direct result of the positive campaigning work that has been led by PSNC, working hard to promote community pharmacy as a solution to some of the wider primary care pressures and problems. Thank you to everyone in the sector who has supported this influencing work.


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


“We hope that a fully funded common conditions service and additional investment in the two existing services will help to give us a platform from which to build an ambitious future for pharmacies and the communities they serve.


"It is now clear that ministers recognise the value that pharmacies can offer and the services we can provide if we are put on a sustainable footing, and we will be looking to build on that positivity through our ongoing vision and strategy work. A financially supported community pharmacy sector can do so much more. 


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


“We are looking forward to discussing the details with [the Department of Health and Social Care (DH)] and NHSE, but as ever, the devil will be in the detail, and our negotiating team is deeply aware of and very focused on the immense and underlying challenges that pharmacies are still grappling with.


"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.” 



CCA: “A real vote of confidence”


Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) chief executive Malcolm Harrison said that the organisation “[welcomes the] news that the government and the NHS will empower community pharmacies to do more for patients”.

“We see this as a real vote of confidence for the future profession and the community pharmacy sector.

“Funding for the contraception service, the blood pressure service and for the common conditions service is critical to enable delivery. As soon as this funding can be released patients will be able to see an immediate benefit.


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


“We know community pharmacy can take on workload from GPs, thereby increasing access for patients. The initiatives here are a crucial first step in realising the true potential of the community pharmacy sector.


“We have long been calling for the NHS to allow community pharmacy to play a leading role in urgent care. The access pharmacies offer is essential to tackling health inequalities and meeting a growing patient need. We encourage NHSE to be ambitious in their plans and take full advantage of this opportunity.”



NPA: “A momentous development”



Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said: “We warmly welcome this commitment to invest in a nationwide, pharmacy-based common ailments service. 


“It’s a long overdue step that will improve access to care and free up GP waiting lists. It’s something we’ve long been calling for; successive health secretaries have talked with us about the benefits of a nationwide pharmacy first scheme, as well as senior NHS officials. This ongoing dialogue is at last bearing fruit.


Read more: PSNC stance on contraception service ‘unchanged’ despite funding pledge


“Critically, the service will be backed by new funding, which we hope signals a better understanding both in government and NHSE about the value pharmacies bring to the health service. If so, it could have long-term significance and set us back on track for a sustainable, clinically focused future, after years of decline.


“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.” 


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


NPA chair Nick Kaye added that he has “seen first-hand how improving access to advice and treatment for common conditions works for GPs, pharmacists and above all patients”.


“This nationwide scheme means that people across the whole country will soon be able to benefit from pharmacists’ prompt and expert support. As trusted and accessible health care professionals, pharmacists and their teams are ideally suited to handle common conditions like coughs, colds and urinary tract infections.


“Everyone will benefit from this development – GP practices, pharmacy teams, the NHS as a whole and, above all, the general public whose day-to-day experience of healthcare will be significantly enhanced by this new service.”



AIMP: “Step in the right direction but more to be done”



Dr Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), said: “The plan recognises the important role that community pharmacy can play in improving patient access to care.


“Any measures to deliver patient care with a less cumbersome, less time consuming and easier bureaucratic burden will be welcomed by pharmacy teams the length and breadth of the country. Our communities know us and trust us and for some time we’ve been arguing that we can be a key solution to many of the challenges facing the NHS and asking the government to put us at the heart of their thinking. 


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


"Our members and their patients wrote thousands of letters to their local MPs and we brought our key messages directly to the Prime Minister. The reality remains that there is currently a shortfall of £1.1bn in pharmacy funding every year and rising and many pharmacies are struggling to pay the ever-increasing prices of medicines, the higher general costs of doing business and managing greater workforce challenges.


"Because around 90% of community pharmacy income is from providing services to the NHS, pharmacies, unlike other businesses are not able to pass on their increased costs to patients and customers by increasing prices, consequently many are operating at a loss. So, whilst the government’s primary care recovery 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.”



RPS: “A real game-changer”



Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in England, said that the organisation is “pleased to see significant investment in this scheme for England, which is already successful in Scotland and Wales”.


“Crucial to the success of Pharmacy First will be how it is implemented on the ground. The funding must flow to the frontline who need to be supported to give patients the quality service they deserve. 


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


“The plans announced today are a real game-changer for patients as they will provide better access to healthcare, helping to reduce the strain on other parts of the NHS and provide patients with the care they need, when they need it. They provide further endorsement of the crucial role that pharmacies play in helping the public at the heart of primary care.


“We welcome the government’s plans that provide additional investment into the sector and that seek to ensure everyone across the country has equal access to care from highly skilled pharmacists and their teams. These plans will help to reduce health inequalities, especially in deprived areas where pharmacies are at the heart of their communities and trusted by patients. 


Read more: New inquiry to rate government progress on pharmacy services pledges


“Providing treatment to help prevent common conditions from becoming worse and requiring more complex treatment later on is better for patients and also cost-effective. Patients can expect to receive trusted advice from pharmacists in their local pharmacy.


“Over 14,000 pharmacists, trainees and undergraduates have been upskilled through the RPS Community Pharmacy Consultation Service training on exactly the kind of conditions that Pharmacy First will cover.


“We look forward to working with NHSE, community pharmacies and other pharmacy organisations on the development and roll out of this plan.”


PDA: “Locum workforce must be considered”



Alison Jones, director of policy at the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), said: “We welcome the injection of funding into the community pharmacy sector and support the recognition that pharmacists have a key role to play in delivering frontline patient care.


“One of the key commitments being made by the NHS in this initiative is that community pharmacists will now get access to patient records and we believe that this will be a significant game-changer, enabling community pharmacists to make a dynamic and beneficial difference to the lives of patients. 


Read more: PSNC hits back as DH ploughs ahead with reduced PQS amid 'imposed' changes


“However, judging by the feedback that we have been getting from our members, the current extraordinarily high levels of workload and burnout in community pharmacy mean that alongside these plans, serious consideration must now additionally be given to having more than one pharmacist being able to work in the pharmacy if this NHS vision is to be delivered.


"Should such a consideration be made, it could go a long way in addressing some of these issues and support the return of many highly qualified and experienced pharmacists to the community sector.


“Community pharmacy could also become more attractive to newly qualified pharmacists, with the professional incentive for them of working in a more patient-facing, collegiate, and professionally fulfilling structure delivering an increased portfolio of services whilst keeping patient safety at the forefront. 


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


“Importantly, to deliver the intended increased levels of access to primary care as outlined by the government in its plan, it is imperative that there is always a pharmacist on the pharmacy premises to help to manage both the expectations of patients and the wider NHS.


“The locum workforce is large, and it is critical to the community pharmacy network, however, it is often overlooked when major plans are laid. With such fundamental changes being proposed, the locum workforce must be considered in any training and development opportunities around the expansion of services. We look forward to seeing the detail of the plans and making a full assessment about what the developments mean to all our members.”



LPC leaders: “A clear place for us”



Shilpa Shah, CEO of North East London Local Pharmaceutical Committee (NEL LPC) said: “This is step in the right direction and a win for community pharmacy.


“We look forward to seeing the detail once this has all been finalised. This funding shows that the government value community pharmacy and can visualise a clear place for us within primary care.” 


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


CEO of Pharmacy London Hitesh Patel told C+D that the organisation - which represents 12 London LPCs – “welcomes the announcement of extra funding”. 


“I think the government has recognised that community pharmacy cannot do any extra services without extra funding attached to it. We are waiting for the full details of what the services are going to look like.


“One of the biggest concerns that I have about any new service that comes out is who's going to manage the service at a local level. A lot of local services need a lot of hands-on management to make sure that the services work well.”



Rowlands: “A no-brainer”



Nigel Swift, managing director of Rowlands - part of pharmacy membership organisation Numark - said that “making better use of community pharmacy is a no-brainer: good for patients and good for the NHS”.


“We have been saying that for years. However, implementing these new services successfully will take several months and in the meantime the government needs to help people understand when it is most appropriate to see your GP or your local pharmacy team. People need to know what “pharmacy first” means in practice.


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


“In addition, we need to understand if this is a one-off cash injection - after years of funding cuts which have led to hundreds of pharmacy closures - or a long-term commitment to improving patient access to healthcare through local pharmacies? Is the government in England now committed to investing in fair funding for pharmacies and reversing the current rate of closures?


“I hope so, because there is so much more pharmacy can do as local health hubs preventing illness arising, managing minor ailments and providing long-term medicine care management. This is a welcome step in the right direction, now we need to see the 10-year strategy and funding commitment for community pharmacy in England.”



Boots: “Really pleased”



Boots CEO Seb James tweeted that the multiple is “really pleased with the recognition that community pharmacy can play a bigger role in relieving pressure on the NHS”.


“We very much welcome the new investment announced today. Our Boots pharmacy teams sit at the heart of communities, offering easy to access care and expert advice. It is great news that they’ll be able use their clinical expertise more widely to help patients.”


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

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