The chief executives of the four biggest UK pharmacy chains, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), the National Pharmacy Association, the Company Chemists’ Association and the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies have written to the health secretary calling on him to introduce a ‘Pharmacy First’ service in England.
The letter, written to Steve Barclay, also warns that unless the community pharmacy sector in England receives more funding, there could be a “rapid move towards many permanent closures” of pharmacies, which would put medicine supply at risk.
Signed by Seb James, chief executive at Boots, Kevin Birch, chief executive at Lloyds Pharmacy, and others, the letter says that community pharmacies are keen to deliver more support for patients and reduce pressure on NHS services.
“A good starting point would be a fully funded ‘Pharmacy First’ service, creating a vital front door to the NHS for patients and alleviating pressure on GP practices and A&E departments,” the letter says.
“But pharmacies could also be offering a wider range of services that support medicine optimisation, long-term conditions, prevention and health inequalities,” it adds.
The PSNC confirmed in November 2022 that it was in talks with government over plans for a “fully funded Pharmacy First service”.
The possibility of a Pharmacy First scheme in England was first mooted by then health secretary Sajid Javid in October 2021, and Barclay, who is in his second term as health secretary, told the NHS Providers conference in November 2022 that the government was looking at how it could “progress” a Pharmacy First service.
The letter to Barclay continued: “We believe that you need to make a critical choice about the role you want pharmacies to play.
“The long term attrition of 30% real term funding cuts over the past seven years is now leading to serious degradation of services to patients. Many pharmacies are now dispensing at a loss and facing a serious cashflow crisis, which we fear, if not addressed, will rapidly move towards many permanent closures.
“We fear that once they start, closures will be hard to stop, as the sector is now so fragile other pharmacies would struggle to pick up the slack. We are deeply concerned that this will put medicine supply at risk — with serious consequences for the millions of people who rely on dispensed prescriptions every year.
“As pharmacy operators who are passionately committed to our patients, we are asking you to make an urgent investment in our sector to help rebuild capacity and sustainability and enable us to fulfil our potential to deliver more accessible and trusted services to patients.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Our five-year deal with the PSNC provides £2.6bn a year to the sector, enabling pharmacies to provide services, such as taking referrals from NHS 111 online, administering blood pressure checks, and managing routine oral contraception without a GP prescription.
“On top of this, we have announced a further £100m investment in the sector to help support the NHS.”