To qualify for the Quality Payments Scheme – through which businesses can claw back up to £6,400 in funding a year – a pharmacy must prove to the Department of Health that it can send and receive NHS mail.
Contractors' eligibility for the scheme will first be assessed in April, by which time pharmacies will need to show evidence that they applied for an NHSmail account by February 1, 2017, according to NHS Digital.
However, changes to the NHSmail application process mean pharmacies cannot currently apply for an account, unless they are taking part in NHS England's emergency supply pilot.
All other pharmacies will have to wait until NHSmail applications reopen in January – giving these contractors a maximum of one month to apply for an account if they want to qualify for the first round of quality payments.
NHS England explained that it had closed the usual process of NHSmail applications for December so it could give "priority to those pharmacies intending to provide the [emergency supply] pilot".
A new “central approach” to NHSmail applications will be rolled-out in January, with the aim to have “national coverage” by the end of March 2017, it added.
Prior to December 1, pharmacies could request an NHSmail account via the local organisation administrator (LOA) in their local NHS England team. According to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC): “LOAs have been told that they should no longer provide new NHSmail accounts to pharmacies.”
Instead, NHS England and NHS Digital are working to develop “a more streamlined and simplified national process for NHSmail” to help pharmacies meet the requirements of the Quality Payments Scheme, PSNC added.
NHS Digital told C+D yesterday (December 5) that it "does not know" how many pharmacies do not yet have NHSmail access.
Last month, Avon local pharmaceutical committee told C+D the “biggest risk” for pharmacies in the region not qualifying for the quality payments is that many do not have NHSmail accounts already.