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‘Time is the main challenge’: Community pharmacy prepares for Pharmacy First

Community pharmacists tell C+D how they’re preparing for the Pharmacy First service launch next month.

Last month, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) announced that the new Pharmacy First common conditions service will officially run from February 1.

Community pharmacists will receive funding, including a £2,000 upfront payment, to deliver seven new clinical pathways.

Read more: Are you ready for Pharmacy First? Deadlines for upfront cash announced

CPE also revealed that the £2,000 cash injection will be “recovered” from pharmacies if they have not delivered at least five clinical pathways consultations by March 31.

Community pharmacists spoke to C+D to share how they’re preparing for the Pharmacy First launch date.


“Extensive training”


Superdrug’s pharmacy superintendent Niamh McMillan told C+D last week (January 4) that “due to the short timescale of the service launch”, the multiple has had to “accelerate the sourcing and delivery” of training and resources to “complement the service”.

“Our pharmacists are undertaking extensive training that covers all seven clinical conditions, clinical history taking and ear and throat practical assessment skills,” Ms McMillan said.

Superdrug pharmacy support teams are also completing a “mandatory training module on the service to ensure they are fully equipped to support it”, she added.

Read more: Pharmacy First IT updates: Pharmacists to have greater GP records access

She also told C+D that the chain’s pharmacies are being provided with “new equipment” like otoscopes and “resource packs” that include a “vast range of documents and resources needed”.

Along with that, pharmacists are being given a standard operating procedure (SOP) document, developed specifically for Pharmacy First.

Read more: Is Pharmacy First addressing the sector's root challenges?

Ms McMillan said that the service’s availability – “without the waiting lists commonly seen for GP appointments” – will have a “positive impact” for patients.

“It will also give people the opportunity to see the clinical advice and treatment that can be accessed through local pharmacies in the first instance,” she told C+D.


“Determination to make this successful”


Chief executive of Community Pharmacy North East London (CP NEL) Shilpa Shah told C+D over the weekend (January 7) that the period between January and March will be “a busy time for community pharmacy”, but once they “get going” and “services are embedded”, the sector “will never look back”.

“I am pleased that this service is starting soon - while more time before the start date would have been nice, it's great to see that, as always, community pharmacy can work with pace and is agile with respect to change”, she said.

She added that “many” pharmacies have already signed up, showing that “there is the determination to make this service successful”.

Read more: CPCS to be ‘replaced’ by Pharmacy First service from February

To support contractors, CP NEL is responding to queries, briefing GP and primary care network (PCN) teams on what to expect following the service launch and sending two team members into local GP practices and pharmacies to help get the service up and running, Ms Shah told C+D.

It has also organised funded ear, nose and throat (ENT) training through the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education (CPPE) and is holding a conference on January 14 for contractors to meet with integrated care board (ICB) colleagues and the chief executive of CPE.

Read more: Pharmacy First funding breakdown: Upfront, monthly and consultation fees

But Ms Shah stressed that “time is the main challenge for contractors”, with “only…a short time to ensure that they are ready” for the new service and “Christmas in the middle - which is the busiest time for community pharmacy”.

“Other challenges are ensuring that all the team are trained on the new service including locums so that the service delivery is consistent,” she added.


“A lot of stress”


Owner of Exmouth's Lewis Pharmacy, Jackie Lewis, told C+D last month that she was under “a lot of stress”, working “really, really hard” during the day and attending webinars during the night.

“Pharmacy First is a really good thing, in my opinion, and it's the way forward,” she said.

But she added that the “transition is going to be really hard”, as well as “not knowing whether to employ anyone else or not”.

Read more: Launch dates announced for Pharmacy First and contraception services

Ms Lewis said that as a contractor, she has to “pick up the slack outside of shop hours” because there is not “enough money in the system” to employ staff in the short term, until the workload becomes “more secure”.

This includes having to undergo all the necessary training and organise backfill for this while her “hands are tied with the dispensary”, she told C+D.


“All sorts of challenges”


Owner of Lewis Grove Pharmacy in London, Salim Jetha, told C+D last week (January 5) that although Pharmacy First is “an exciting opportunity” for pharmacists “to maximise their clinical knowledge” and become “recognised as an integral part of public health”, reading the service specification presented “all sorts of challenges”.

Read more: All the headlines: Primary care recovery plan funding details revealed

He said that he has already fielded “several requests from patients and even from NHS 111” referring patients before the launch date thanks to the “publicity” around the service.

“The sad part is that it will be hard for a number of pharmacies to provide continuity of the service, especially those who rely heavily on locums…and those with high staff turnover,” he added.


“It’s important we’re ready”


And community pharmacist and lecturer at Reading University Gurinder Singh told C+D this week (January 8) that he cannot imagine the workforce prepared for Pharmacy First by the end of January, with “so much work” still required for “the majority of pharmacists”.

Although he said that it’s “great” to see the training opportunities available, pharmacists are “struggling to get booked onto courses” because they are “getting fully booked very quickly”.

He also added that having these sessions on evenings or weekends is “not helping a workforce” that is already facing burnout and undertaking training often “at the expense of family time without remuneration”.

Read more: No plans to expand Pharmacy First conditions ‘at present’, says Leadsom

"[Pharmacy First] was needed and has been long coming but details came so late at the end of last year that the launch should have been pushed back to April 1, giving staff enough time to train,” he said.

Nonetheless, he stressed that the sector cannot afford to “turn patients away or make unnecessary onward referrals to other clinicians” and that pharmacy teams must be “set up correctly” to “ensure patient safety is key”.

“It is so important that we are all ready,” Mr Singh said.   

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