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Pharmacy First: Community pharmacy should wait and see what happens next

The announcement of a Pharmacy First service in England leaves many questions unanswered, says Adrian Zacher

Well, this is a bit awkward. The government has apparently done something to silence its critics. By announcing it is going to fund a Pharmacy First service in England, it seems to have caught the sector off guard.

That's if you ignore the fact the timeline for introducing the service seems to have slipped from October this year to the end of 2023 and the many unanswered questions about what exactly will happen next.

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

Saying thank you should be a natural and harmonious way to respond. But when wise heads advise that the devil will be in the details and recent political events raise questions over whether the current government will be around long enough to foot the bill, I can’t help but feel there’s something else at play.

I don’t suppose the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has ever felt a greater weight of expectation on its shoulders than it does right now. On the one hand, the sector is on its knees, desperate for a lifeline. On the other, the government is offering the largest funding injection in years.

I recently wrote about the community pharmacist consultation service (CPCS) and how pharmacists don't get paid for these consultations unless a referral through section 4 of the CPCS advanced service specification is completed. The fear now is that encouraging the public to consult a pharmacist first could create millions more unfunded consultations and be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

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

When I read that seven conditions are to be considered fit for the Pharmacy First service so the patient doesn’t needlessly bounce from pharmacist to GP and back again, I asked myself why only those seven. There’s a long list of symptom types in annex E of the CPCS advanced service specification. Wouldn’t that make a reasonable starting point for Pharmacy First in England?

Because if we’re going to get behind pharmacy then we need to get behind pharmacy. The public is desperate and increasingly impatient. The public doesn’t know that the pharmacist doesn’t always get paid for their time giving advice at the moment. Many would see the headlines heralding the launch of Pharmacy First in England and assume £645 million gave them the right to be seen by a pharmacist for their symptoms.

Read more: What could England’s national Pharmacy First service look like?

We’ve little option now but to wait and see what happens – and more importantly when. Despite this, I feel optimistic. Do you?


Adrian Zacher is CEO of The British Society of Pharmacy Sleep Services

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