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Fifth of pharmacies warn May Pharmacy First threshold increase ‘unachievable’

New data has revealed that 20% of pharmacies believe next month’s increase in Pharmacy First minimum thresholds will be “unachievable”, with 13% already unable to deliver enough consultations to meet current targets.  

Survey data collected by the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) last month from 2,133 pharmacy branches revealed that most pharmacies are struggling to meet current Pharmacy First minimum thresholds.

In November, NHS England (NHSE) said that all pharmacies offering the new Pharmacy First service must periodically increase the number of consultations they complete until October this year.

This month, pharmacies must complete a minimum of five consultations to claim a fixed monthly payment of £1,000, but next month the threshold will rise to 10. By October, the activity threshold will be 30 consultations.

But 20.5% of respondents to AIMp’s poll on the service said that next month’s threshold increase will be “unachievable”, according to slides presented at the Pharmacy Forum conference this week (April 22-23) and shared with C+D yesterday.

And 59% reported that they would “struggle to achieve” ten consultations per month.

Some 72% said they were already “struggling” to achieve the current monthly minimum threshold, while 13% said they weren’t meeting it at all.

When asked if they were “satisfied” with the service, a staggering 59% of respondents said that they were not and deemed Pharmacy First “time consuming and underpaid”.

Almost half (44%) said that consultations take 20 minutes on average, with 10% saying they took 30 minutes or more, while 72% reported that time spent on the service had “reduced [their] capacity to deliver other pharmacy services [and] activities”.

And almost two-thirds (61.5%) of respondents said that less than half of consultations were meeting the gateway criteria and therefore qualifying for payment.


Minimum thresholds “an area of risk”


Meanwhile, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) also raised concerns about pharmacies’ ability to meet Pharmacy First minimum thresholds at its full committee meeting last week (April 17-18).

Meeting minutes published this week (April 22) revealed that it believes “the ability of pharmacy owners to pass the threshold levels for clinical pathways consultations to trigger the monthly payment of £1,000 continues to be an area of risk”.

The negotiator added that it has “been concerned” about minimum thresholds “since the negotiations on the service”.

“This will be kept under review as NHS data on service provisions becomes available,” it said.


“Not possible to monitor” saved GP appointments


And in parliament yesterday (April 23), pharmacy minister Dame Andrea Leadsom admitted that it is “not possible” for the government to “monitor the number of GP appointments Pharmacy First frees up”.

“However, we know that Pharmacy First will enable GPs to see patients with more complex needs quicker”, Leadsom added.

When the service was announced last year, the government had estimated Pharmacy First would save up to up to 10 million GP appointments per year, a claim it reiterated in November.

It comes as C+D reported earlier this month that “daily or weekly” Pharmacy First consultation targets and comparisons between branches are putting mounting pressure on pharmacy teams.

And in February, an Avicenna poll revealed that less than 40% of Pharmacy First consultations delivered by the group’s pharmacies met the gateway criteria for payment.

C+D last month reported that one pharmacy missed out on 10 consultation referrals in one day after GPs failed to formally refer patients to the Pharmacy First service.

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