The new pharmacy contraceptive service saw minimal sign-up from the sector upon its launch earlier this week (24 April), Pulse’s sister title The Pharmacist has found.
Just 456 out of 11,827 community pharmacies in England signed up within the first two days of the option being available to contractors, translating to 4% of the sector.
The Tier 1 Pharmacy Contraception Service allows community pharmacies across England 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.
It had been lauded in Thérèse Coffey’s new plan for patient access last autumn, with the Government suggesting pharmacies ‘could free up to two million general practice appointments a year’.
Pharmacies that sign up to provide the service are paid a £900 set-up fee in instalments, as well as an £18 fee per patient consultation.
The news comes as NHS England was urged by pharmacy leaders this week to ‘pause and reflect’ before rolling it out any further.
But concerns have been raised that this funding has already been allocated to other pharmacy services and operations, and that contractors across the sector will feel the impact of any payments made for the contraception service as this money is ‘clawed back’ from other payments.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has said that the ‘imposition’ of the launch was ‘in direct contradiction’ to its warnings that rolling out additional services was ‘neither feasible nor affordable’.
And this week the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) added its calls for the service to be paused, saying that both patients and pharmacies would lose out if the service continued.
The NPA said: ‘We can’t tell pharmacy owners what they can and can’t do. But we can tell them the facts; fact number one is that with no new funding currently available everyone will be a loser from the implementation of this service on the current terms.’
NPA vice chair Jay Badenhorst added that patients would also be negatively impacted by the roll-out of the contraception service.
‘Taking on additional work when current workload already exceeds capacity risks impacting negatively on the overall quality of care people experience in pharmacies.
‘We still believe this could, in future, be a great new pharmacy service, but not without the extra funding necessary to deliver it safely and effectively. We want to offer women this extra support, but if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing properly,’ he explained.
‘We cannot be expected to take on more and more services without the increase in funding necessary to deliver them effectively,’ Mr Badenhorst said.
The NPA said that it aims to remain in dialogue with PSNC, NHS England and the DHSC about a way forward for the service.
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), said that AIMp was ‘very much opposed to more services being introduced within the current global sum’, but ‘will not be telling our members what to do, it will be their own business decision’.
The Pharmacist understands that Day Lewis, which owns over 260 pharmacies across the UK, will not be implementing the service.
In a statement issued yesterday and seen by The Pharmacist, executive director Jay Patel said in January 2023, Day Lewis had invested £100k in locum backfill to train pharmacists to deliver the service ‘assuming it would be fairly funded by NHSE’.
He said: ‘All our pharmacists are now trained. However, we will not be launching the service until progress is made with pharmacy funding.
‘Day Lewis have always been keen and proactive to deliver pharmacy services, but the current model where pharmacies are asked to do more for less, and services coming from the existing global sum is unsustainable and cannot continue.
‘As a family business it’s distressing that NHS England has forced us to ration services to a few patients so that we can continue to support our critically ill and chronic patients, whose lives depend on us.’
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said that it was ‘supporting pharmacies to provide a range of clinical services’ and was ‘increasing the services pharmacists – who are degree qualified medical health professionals – can provide to their community including managing oral contraception’.
They added: ‘The Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) 2019-24 five-year deal agreed with the PSNC in 2019 commits £2.592bn annually to the sector.
‘In September we announced what more community pharmacy will do during the remainder of the five-year deal until the end of 2023/24 and provided an additional one-off investment of £100m in the sector.’
A version of this story was first published by Pulse’s sister title The Pharmacist