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NHSE cements goal of 320k monthly Pharmacy First consultations

NHS England (NHSE) has announced that it aims to “grow” monthly patient volumes across three pharmacy services by March 2025.

NHSE has set a target for pharmacies in England to be delivering “at least” 320,000 monthly Pharmacy First consultations by this time next year.

The commissioner said it “will continue to realise the potential of community pharmacies, growing the monthly patient volumes across all three pharmacy services by March 2025” in a document setting out its delivery plan for recovering access to primary care.

On top of the Pharmacy First consultation goal, the document – published yesterday (April 9) – laid out plans to increase monthly blood pressure check consultations to 71,000 and monthly oral contraception consultations to 25,800 by the same time.

It also said that “further funding will be available to in 2024/25…to support the continued roll-out of Pharmacy First”.

But NHSE told C+D today that this “further funding” will be included in the second year of the £645 million package promised last year.


Pharmacy First chaos


Meanwhile, last month C+D found that IT problems with Pharmacy First software had prevented three quarters of respondents to a snapshot poll from completing consultations for the service.

Contractors were left unable to complete Pharmacy First consultations when IT provider PharmOutcomes updated its security system and kicked users off the site.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) warned that consultation number discrepancies on the NHS Manage Your Service (MYS) portal could leave contractors "out of pocket” by “thousands of pounds".

Read more: IT chaos left 3/4 of pharmacies unable to complete Pharmacy First consultations

And C+D found that some GPs were refusing to make Pharmacy First referrals, saying it took “three clicks more than we want”. 

Pharmacy teams also reported experiencing long Pharmacy First consultations, most of which do not reach the gateway criteria for payment.

They also told of disgruntled patients “yelling and throwing items” at pharmacists due to unclear messaging over the service.


Services also bundled by March 2023


In November, NHSE laid out the expectation that all pharmacies offering the new Pharmacy First service should complete 30 monthly appointments per month by October this year. 

At the time, it announced that contractors would have to reach a minimum number of Pharmacy First consultations to claim the fixed monthly payment of £1,000.

It also said that Pharmacy First will be “bundled” with the expanded blood pressure check and contraception services by March 2025 – meaning pharmacies will have to offer all three if they sign up to Pharmacy First.

In January, the government revealed that only a quarter of pharmacies in England had signed up to offer the new contraception service.

Previous iterations of the pharmacy contraception service have also come under fire from the sector over a lack of funding.

When tier one launch of the service was launched last April, Day Lewis announced that it would pause its rollout of the scheme until "progress" was made with funding and London LPCs urged their 1,498 pharmacies to opt out.


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