Clearer Pharmacy First messaging under consideration after reports of patient aggression, says negotiator

There have been reports of confusion among adult patients because the Pharmacy First service specification states treatment for otitis media is only available for those aged under 18 years.
Physician checks child's ear with otoscope

The negotiating body for community pharmacists in England has highlighted an “ongoing need” to clarify the eligibility criteria for Pharmacy First services in NHS marketing materials.

Community Pharmacy England’s (CPE) comments follow reports of patients being turned away from pharmacies and abuse of pharmacy staff because of restrictions on who can be treated for some of the Pharmacy First services, which were rolled out across England in January 2024.

In the House of Commons on 5 March 2024, Nigel Mills, Conservative MP for Amber Valley, told health minister Andrew Leadsom that pharmacists in his constituency had reported “confusion because the ear infection service applies only to [patients aged under 18 years] and patients are being referred to pharmacies when they should not be”.

He asked the minister to “either extend the service to over-18s or ensure that NHS communications are clear that this service is only for children”.

In reply, Leadsom said that she would “write to him to address the specific point he makes about over-18s and children”.

Otitis media is one of seven conditions that can be treated under the Pharmacy First scheme, but the service specification states treatment can only be provided to those aged under 18 years.

The other six conditions treatable as part of the service are sinusitis for adults and children aged 12 years and over; sore throat for adults and children aged 5 years and over; infected insect bites for adults and children aged 1 year and over; impetigo for adults and children aged 1 year and over; shingles in adults aged 18 years and over; and uncomplicated UTIs in women aged 16–64 years.

NHS England has been running a promotional campaign across billboards, social media, press, radio and TV to raise patient awareness of the Pharmacy First service.

A spokesperson for Community Pharmacy England (CPE) said in a statement: “We and others, including patient representatives, have been highlighting the ongoing need for the NHS Pharmacy First marketing campaign to make the eligibility criteria for the service as clear as possible. We understand that they are actively looking at this across their channels.”

Data from NHS England show that more than 90% of community pharmacies in England — equating to over 10,000 pharmacies in total — have signed up to offer the Pharmacy First service.

In February 2024, health minister Lord Markham told the House of Lords that 3,000 Pharmacy First consultations were carried out across England on the first three days of the service’s operation.

An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS is already running an extensive advertising campaign on the support patients can now receive from their pharmacist, with further information including age restrictions for prescription medicines being clearly detailed on the NHS website.

“Those that do not come across the ads running across TV, social media and in public spaces, can find out more information by visiting or by speaking to their local pharmacist.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, March 2024, Vol 312, No 7983;312(7983)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.279964

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