The new funding contract has understandably received a mix reaction from pharmacies since it was announced in July. Many have decried freezing funding for five years at a reduced level that is already proving unsustainable to run a business and cater to the needs of patients, while others have welcomed the stability needed to plan for the future.
While it certainly didn’t live up to the repeated government promises of “sustainable” funding after three years of cuts, it did at least offer a roadmap for how NHS England would like to better utilise the sector. The new focus on services will see certain pharmacies deliver hepatitis C screening, and potentially identify undiagnosed cardiovascular disease, undertake smoking cessation referrals from primary care, conduct discharge medication reviews and oversee expanded new medicine service consultations.
But top of the agenda was a national referral service from NHS 111.
The accompanying £14 consultation fee, while welcome, will hardly be a panacea for the financial woes suffered by so many of England’s pharmacies – especially if estimates of just one or two consultations a week at the outset prove to be accurate. However, as the number of referrals grows, so – hopefully – will community pharmacy’s reputation among both patients and the wider NHS as a source of clinical expertise. This is even more likely if referrals from GPs – currently being piloted – are added to the service as planned.
Pharmacists have correctly complained for years that their experience and training is rarely recognised, or fully utilised, by primary care and beyond. Let’s hope that this new national service is a step in the right direction.