Number of Pharmacy First consultations in Scotland increases by 60% in three years

Data show an increase in the use of the NHS Pharmacy First service in Scotland across gender, age and deprivation quintiles.
Pharmacist using otoscope to look in patient's ear

The number of consultations carried out under Scotland’s NHS Pharmacy First service has increased by 60% in the first three full years since it launched, data have shown.

According to data from Public Health Scotland, published on 9 April 2024, pharmacy contractors claimed for 4.2 million consultations in 2023.

These consultations include those that resulted in an item being dispensed, a referral to the patient’s GP, or the Pharmacy First consultation only.

The number of consultations claimed for in 2023 was a 60.1% increase on the 2.6 million consultations claimed for in 2021 — the first full year that the service was offered to patients.

NHS Pharmacy First was launched across Scotland on 29 July 2020, after being postponed from its original start date of 22 April 2020 to allow pharmacy teams to focus on managing the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Since then, data show the increasing popularity of the service during the past three years, with the number of consultations that resulted in items dispensed increasing by 53.4%; consultations that resulted in referrals to the patient’s GP rising by 84.1%; and the number of claims for a consultation increasing by 103.7% between 2021 and 2023.

The data also show that the number of people accessing Pharmacy First in Scotland at least once every three months has increased by 31%, from 464,363 between July and September 2021 to 609,287 between July and September 2023.

Public Health Scotland said this trend can be seen “in both males and females, and across all age groups and deprivation quintiles”.

Of the 609,287 people accessing the service in the most recent reported quarter, 62% were female, while the highest rate of Pharmacy First use was in the 0–9 years age group (179 per 1,000 population).

In addition, the data show use of the service across all levels of deprivation in the population, with 44% of patients living in the two most deprived quintiles in the most recently reported quarter.

Data from the Community Pharmacy Unscheduled Supply (CPUS) service, which allows pharmacies to provide patients with one repeat prescription when obtaining a new prescription has not been possible, such as over weekends and public holidays, have also been added to the data release for the first time.

The data show 11% of the Scottish population (621,330 people) used CPUS in the most recent 12 months reported (October 2022 to September 2023), with the number of people using CPUS at least once in a quarter increasing by 29% in two years, from 165,548 people in July to September 2021 to 213,974 people in July to September 2023.

Of the 213,974 people who used CPUS in the most recent reported quarter, 57% were female, and 124 patients per 1,000 population were in the 90 years and above age group, compared with 9 patients aged 0–9 years per 1,000 population.

Public Health Scotland said: “As with Pharmacy First, use of CPUS can be seen across all deprivation quintiles, with 45% of people using the service in the most recent quarter in the two most deprived quintiles.”

Commenting on NHS Pharmacy First and Pharmacy First Plus in Scotland, Laura Wilson, director for Scotland at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “Pharmacy First and Pharmacy First Plus have been hugely welcome additions for both pharmacy teams and patients across Scotland.

“Both services have expanded pharmacists’ roles, and Pharmacy First Plus in particular has offered an opportunity to transform independent prescribing in community pharmacy, which supports readily accessible healthcare in communities across Scotland.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, May 2024, Vol 312, No 7985;312(7985)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.311721

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