Community pharmacies across England will be able to opt in to provide a ‘common conditions’ service from 31 January – subject to the right IT support being ready.
Hailed in the primary care recovery plan, the £645m workload shift to pharmacies includes prescribing for seven common conditions.
These are sinusitis; sore throat; earache; infected insect bite; impetigo; shingles; and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women.
The ‘Pharmacy First’ scheme was supposed to launch before the end of 2023, but NHS England said today this will now happen at the beginning of next year.
The Government said today it is working to amend the clinical triage system so that electronic referrals from NHS 111 and urgent and emergency care settings for the second conditions go to pharmacies signed up to the scheme rather than GP practices.
As part of plans, community pharmacies will be enabled to access and add to patient records currently maintained by GPs.
The Government said today that is is working with IT suppliers ‘to streamline referrals from GPs moving away from NHSmail’.
The Recovery Plan targeted for the measures to free up 10 million GP appointments a year by next winter. However, the BMA’s GP Committee has warned against making antibiotics easier to access.
A consultation has also been launched to enable pharmacy technicians to supply and administer medicines and the responses are currently being reviewed.
What does the agreement look like for pharmacies?
Operating under PGDs, pharmacists will be able to hold consultations with patients and treat sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women, including by supplying antibiotics where appropriate.
Pharmacies that register for the service by a still-to-be-confirmed deadline ahead of the 31 January launch will receive an upfront payment of £2,000 per pharmacy.
And subject to delivering a minimum number of consultations each month – increasing by staggered amounts throughout the year from one in February to 30 from October – participating pharmacies will receive a monthly fixed payment of £1,000.
In addition to this, they will receive a payment of £15 per consultation, and payment caps will be implemented in the second half of 2024/25.
All pharmacies that register for this advanced service will be required to operate all seven PGDs, with the exception of distance selling pharmacies which will provide six services but not the clinical pathway for acute otitis media (earache).
Once Pharmacy First has been launched, it will be publicised to patients through a government campaign, and medicines will be provided to patients via the normal PGD route of utilising prescription fees and exemptions.
Meanwhile, community pharmacies will also be allowed to initiate contraceptive prescriptions starting next month, NHS England announced today.
Since April this year, community pharmacies have been able to use a patient group direction to manage the ongoing monitoring and supply of repeat oral contraception that has already been initiated by a GP or a sexual health service.
This next stage of the service – under which pharmacists can also initiate prescribing – had been due to launch in September but is now going live from December.
Upon launching it will be available to ‘almost half a million women’, according to NHS England. Once more pharmacies sign up to the scheme, women will be able to use the NHS website to search for their nearest participating pharmacy.
Newly-appointed health secretary Victoria Atkins said: ‘It is a pleasure to start my time as Secretary of State with such a positive example of the Government, NHS and pharmacy sector working together to reach an agreement to improve services and save lives…
‘And for healthcare professionals this will free up GP appointments and make better use of the skills and expertise within community pharmacies.’
Dr Claire Fuller, NHS medical director for primary care and the NHS’ lead GP in England said: ‘Local pharmacies are trusted parts of our communities and GPs and pharmacists work closely together.
‘Pharmacists have always provided continuity and long-term support to patients, families, and carers. So, this is a safe and common-sense way of making NHS services easier for patients to use.’