Community pharmacies providing the NHS pharmacy contraception service must start initiating patients on contraception by 29 February 2024 or face deregistration from the service, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) has said.
In a statement announcing updated specifications for the service on 22 November 2023, CPE said that any pharmacies currently providing the tier 1 service, which includes ongoing management of oral contraception, “will have a period of time to transition” before being required to register for tier 2 of the service, in which pharmacists can initiate patients on contraception.
“The deadline for this opt-in is 29 February 2024,” the CPE statement said.
“Any pharmacies providing the tier 1 service who do not opt-in by that date will be automatically deregistered from the service.”
Pharmacists are able to register their intention to provide the expanded service through the NHS Business Services Authority’s ‘Manage Your Service’ portal.
Pharmacy owners who are registering to provide the service for the first time after 1 December 2023 “will need to provide the full, expanded service” — including tiers 1 and 2 — from the point of registration.
The updated specifications follow NHS England’s announcement on 16 November 2023 that the pharmacy contraception service will be expanded to allow all pharmacists to initiate patients on oral contraception from 1 December 2023, as part of its ‘Delivery plan for recovering access to primary care’.
Enabling pharmacists to initiate patients onto oral contraceptives was described as a “landmark moment” when pilots first launched in December 2022.
Commenting on the updated specifications, Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at CPE, encouraged “all pharmacy owners to embrace the service”.
“However, pharmacy owners will also need to consider the launch of the Pharmacy First service at the end of January 2024, when they are planning their preparations to get ready to provide the pharmacy contraception service or to enhance their existing service provision. Many will likely choose to prioritise preparations for the Pharmacy First service,” he said.
The Pharmacy First service in England will allow pharmacists to supply medicines for seven common health conditions, including earache, sore throat and urinary tract infections. The service is part of NHS England’s plan to invest an additional £645m in community pharmacy over the next two years.
The funding will also support a relaunch of the NHS community pharmacy blood pressure check service from 1 December 2023.
Updated specifications for the blood pressure check service, also published on 22 November 2023, will allow any “suitably trained and competent pharmacy staff” to provide the service, including non-registered members of the pharmacy team.
Previously, the hypertension service could only be provided by pharmacists or pharmacy technicians.
Buxton said the change to the blood pressure check service “will allow pharmacy owners to review who in their team is best placed to offer the service, therefore providing a greater opportunity to use skill mix in their teams and free up pharmacists’ time”.
Commenting on the updates, Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said: “The pharmacy contraceptive service is a welcome step for patients and further illustrates the untapped resource that pharmacy offers with the right investment.
“What is being asked of pharmacy today is to innovate or prove itself amidst the worst financial crisis in its history. Our sector has a shortfall of over £1.2bn in its core funding.
“I must warn the government neither the NHS or community pharmacy can merely innovate its way out of a crisis without investment and community pharmacy desperately needs that investment,” said Hannbeck.