Pharmacy negotiators are in renewed discussions with the government about plans for “a fully funded national Pharmacy First service”, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has said.
The comments came in response to a speech by Steve Barclay, health and social care secretary, at the NHS Providers conference in Liverpool on 16 November 2022, in which he said that the government is “looking at how we can progress Pharmacy First” as a way of improving access to general practice.
In October 2021, Sajid Javid, then health and social care secretary, said he had asked his department to look into setting up a national minor ailments scheme similar to Scotland’s ‘Pharmacy First’ service, through which 3.3 million consultations were carried out in the two years following its launch on 29 July 2020.
In January 2021, in its response to a freedom of information request sent by The Pharmaceutical Journal, the government suggested that a policy on the service was being developed.
However, these plans appeared to have been shelved following the announcement of an agreement on the final two years of the current community pharmacy contract in September 2022.
However, responding to Barclay’s comments, a spokesperson for the PSNC said that since the conclusion of negotiations for the final two years of the ‘Community pharmacy contractual framework’ (CPCF), “we have had further discussions with the minister and [Department of Health and Social Care] officials regarding our proposals” for a Pharmacy First service in England.
Janet Morrison, chief executive of the PSNC, commented: “Pharmacy First is an idea whose time has come.
“[The] PSNC [has] put forward a proposal for a fully funded national Pharmacy First service during our negotiations earlier this year and we have since been discussing it with ministers and officials.
“Whilst we were frustrated that the service didn’t make it into the CPCF years four and five deal, it is promising to hear the secretary of state is now giving this serious consideration,” she said.
“With the right funding the service would provide sufficient capacity in pharmacies to be the first port of call for minor ailments, giving patients certainty about where to go, confident that they will be referred onwards if necessary. It would also help alleviate pressures on GP surgeries at a critical time.”
In his speech at the NHS Providers conference, Barclay said improving GP access was a “key priority”.
“We’ll be looking at the skills mix in primary care, creating more appointments for patients, rolling out the extra phone lines, looking at how we can progress Pharmacy First,” he said.
Evidence submitted by the PSNC to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee, as part of its inquiry into the ‘Future of General Practice’, suggested that a national minor ailments scheme, similar to the service offered in Scotland, could save the NHS up to £640m per year.
Through Scotland’s ‘NHS Pharmacy First’ scheme, pharmacists can offer free advice, treatment and referrals to patients presenting with minor conditions and supply treatment for certain conditions, without the need for a patient to visit their GP.