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On digital changes: Let’s make Pharmacy First happen

Sima Jassal considers the digital changes that will accompany the launch of Pharmacy First - and the future clinical opportunities for the profession.

After much anticipation, the government has confirmed the details of England’s new Pharmacy First scheme and we have a launch date for February 1.

It’s great news – a landmark moment for community pharmacy that will open new clinical and financial opportunities.

Now we need to make it happen. 

Read more: Helping community pharmacy prepare for a service-led future

As clinical lead for a widely used pharmacy IT system, my primary focus is to oversee the implementation of the many technical changes required so that our customers can hit the ground running with Pharmacy First this year.

As a pharmacist, I will also need to train for the new services myself and be ready to play my part in frontline delivery.


Digital changes


Pharmacy First represents a fundamental shift in community pharmacy’s role, which means pharmacy systems will need to undergo significant changes.

On the clinical side, we must reconfigure our software to add the 23 new Patient Group Directions (PGDs) that underpin the seven common conditions that pharmacy will be able to treat.

We will also need to develop a safe and efficient user flow to help pharmacists decide whether patients require treatment through Pharmacy First or a different route, using the gateway criteria provided by NHS England (NHSE).

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

And crucially, of course, we will need to update the payment systems to replace the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) mechanisms with those for Pharmacy First.

It's important work; community pharmacy is already shouldering a huge workload and we want to support the profession with a seamless transition as it takes on this new role.


Joining up with the GP record


One of the most significant technology changes to accompany Pharmacy First is the introduction of greater interoperability with the GP record. This will be a strategically critical moment for the profession, as it holds the key to fully integrating pharmacy’s provision within the wider healthcare team.

Under Pharmacy First, community pharmacists will be able to access more of the GP record, to support diagnoses and treatments. We will also be able to write back to the record, ensuring GP practices are kept informed about consultations and medications prescribed.

Read more: The way forward: Remote supervision in community pharmacy

There is a huge push for the rollout of the nationally specified GP Connect standard to deliver this new level of interoperability. Specifically, there is a push for GP Connect: Update Record, which allows for sending an electronic post event message after supply via Pharmacy First, and GP Connect: Access Record.

Community Pharmacy England (CPE) rightly describes this as a milestone moment for pharmacy. While explaining the new digital infrastructure, it says: “This is a significant step forward towards the integration of pharmacy and GP care records that will support the future development of community pharmacy services. We have been pressing for this interoperability for many years, so this investment in it is very welcome.”

Read more: The mammoth in your pharmacy

As a technology lead and a pharmacist, I wholeheartedly agree. Shared patient records are essential if we are to realise pharmacy’s full potential as a healthcare provider. 

Joined-up systems mean patients can be seamlessly signposted to the right services for them; driving relevant referrals into pharmacy and making the most of our clinical skills. 


Enhanced clinical role


It is my hope that Pharmacy First will lay the digital foundation for a more enhanced clinical role for pharmacy in years to come, along with additional income.

Take vaccinations for example. Company Chemists Association (CCA) analysis shows that community pharmacies have delivered nearly a quarter (24%) of all Covid-19 vaccines given in England, and nearly half (46%) of those administered this year (2023). This is in addition to our growing role in delivering flu vaccinations – a vital annual task that is helping to reduce pressure on GP surgeries.

Read more: Pharmacists as leaders: A journey we should all be on to help the DPP shortage

I support the discussions around expanding pharmacy’s vaccination role as envisaged in the recently published Vision for Community Pharmacy, for example. Childhood vaccinations would seem an obvious area where we can help to deliver a fully integrated, accessible service in the heart of local communities.

While I am personally excited about these new opportunities for pharmacy, I am also very aware of the immense pressure the sector is under.

As we look to the future, let’s make sure pharmacy has all the support it needs to take on these new services without a negative impact on staff wellbeing. 


Sima Jassal is a clinical director at EMIS Health

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