NHS England is planning to test the inclusion of depression in the new medicine service (NMS) as part of a range of pilots involving community pharmacy that are “in the pipeline”, it has announced.
The NMS, which launched in 2011, enables community pharmacists to support patients who have been newly prescribed medicines across several therapy areas, including osteoporosis, gout, heart failure and glaucoma.
The service was expanded from covering 4 therapy areas to 16 in August 2021, as part of the agreement for the third year of the five-year community pharmacy contract.
During a keynote speech at the Clinical Pharmacy Congress, held in London on 13 May 2022, David Webb, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, said: “Community pharmacy has been delivering impressive results for patients and community pharmacy colleagues” during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that they “are a key part of the overall direction of travel for clinical pharmacy practice in the future.
“It’s hugely positive to see the growing confidence everyone has in community pharmacy, with more pharmacy integration programme pilots already underway and several more in the pipeline,” he said.
“The pilots shown on this slide are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of opportunity, once independent prescribing becomes mainstream.”
The slide shown alongside his comments listed four pilots — including the smoking cessation and contraception management service pilots — that are already underway, in addition to “a pilot looking at the expansion of the NMS to include depression, a fully integrated pathway, and to explore the role of the pharmacy technician”.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) had previously called for community pharmacists to be able to support people with mental health conditions by including antidepressants in a service such as the NMS.
NHS England later confirmed in October 2021 that it was considering adding depression to a list of conditions covered by the service.
Thorrun Govind, chair of the RPS in England, welcomed the new pilot.
“Optimal use of prescribed medicines is vital to the management of depression, and we want to see people with mental health problems benefit from the service like other patient groups,” she said.
“We had previously stated our view that the exclusion of mental health medicines from the NMS was a significant omission.
“This news will now hopefully lead to better integration of pharmacists into the patient pathway and increase access to expert medicines support for people diagnosed with a mental health condition.”
Webb’s speech also highlighted the success of ongoing services, such as the GP community pharmacist consultation service (CPCS), which he said now has “over 7,000 referrals per week and growing”.
Uptake of the CPCS from general practice had been slower than expected, after it was launched in November 2020.
Leading GPs had explained that the low uptake was partly owing to a “bureaucratic” electronic referral system and, as of October 2021, a report from the RPS said that just 862 out of more than 6,500 GP practices in England were using the service.