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Pharmacies could deliver 30 million Pharmacy First appointments a year


Pharmacies could deliver 30 million Pharmacy First appointments a year

A Pharmacy First service has the potential to move over 30 million appointments from general practice into community pharmacies every year, a Company Chemists’ Association analysis suggests.

The Association, which represents multiple pharmacy contractors, says the NHS and the government need to be bold in their ambition to transform the sector and they must trust patients to access care where it is most appropriate to do so.

Independent prescribing is the future of clinical practice in community pharmacies yet there is not currently a clear role for prescribers in England, the CCA adds. Pharmacy First should be the vehicle used to transform pharmacy practice, it suggests.

The NHS has previously estimated that 6 per cent of all GP consultations (20.4 million appointments a year) could be safely transferred to a community pharmacy. The CCA’s analysis of government plans indicates an intention to free up approximately 6m GP appointments annually – which falls well short of what pharmacies could deliver.

“We estimate that with the added capability to supply non-prescription medicines and prescribe additional prescription only medicines, an ambitious Pharmacy First service could free up 30 million plus GP appointments annually,” the CCA says.

“Harnessing community pharmacies to deliver care for minor health conditions will effectively create 11,000 urgent care centres in England. With nearly 90 per cent of the population located within a 20-minute walk of a pharmacy, patients will be able to seek care and advice closer to their home and at a time that is convenient for them.”

Based on the rollout of Pharmacy First in Scotland, it is likely 15 – 20 million consultations will be provided in the first year alone, says the CCA. Pharmacies in England are currently delivering just over 1 million urgent care appointments year through the Community Pharmacy Consultation Service.

The Association believes that Pharmacy First should be the launchpad for pharmacies to deliver more clinical services. Ambitious commissioning could position pharmacies as the ‘go-to’ place for urgent and emergency care, it says.

“However, unlocking this potential requires a fairer funding framework,” says the CCA. “Community pharmacy is chronically underfunded with the current annual funding shortfall equates to more than £67,000 per pharmacy in England. The funding announced in the recent Delivery Plan is new money for new activity and does not address the historic underfunding of the sector.”  

The CCA also calls for a bold approach to harnessing pharmacist independent prescribing. All pharmacists registering after 2026 will be independent prescribers, but there are an estimated 23,000 pharmacists currently in England without IP qualifications. Under current plans, it will take until 2040 to train the entire workforce.

At present, only 5 per cent of employed and relief community pharmacists in England are IP qualified – and even fewer are likely to use these qualifications regularly as there are no NHS commissioned opportunities to do so, says the CCA.

Health Education England (HEE) and NHSE have confirmed funding for approximately 3,000 community pharmacists to train as prescribers.

The ‘Delivery plan for recovering access to primary care’, published on 9 May, outlined a £645m financial package for community pharmacy to expand the pharmacy oral contraception and blood pressure services this year, improved IT system connectivity between general practice and community pharmacy, and a Pharmacy First service in England.

Pharmacy First is expected to launch some time before the end of this year. It will allow pharmacists to supply prescription-only antibiotics and antivirals where clinically appropriate, to treat seven common health conditions (sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women) without needing to visit a GP.

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