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Analysis: Who’s getting the most out of Pharmacy First?


Analysis: Who’s getting the most out of Pharmacy First?

Data from the frst two months of England’s Pharmacy First service is now available on the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) website, giving us an insight into how businesses are faring with this landmark initiative. 

Bodies like the Company Chemists’ Association have shared their own analyses of the service, revealing that large multiples completed over 200,000 consultations between January and June and that sore throat and UTIs were the most popular clinical pathways. But which individual businesses are faring best in terms of their consultation numbers?

At the top of the NHSBSA leader board for March is Meacher Higgins and Thomas Pharmacy in the affluent London neighbourhood of Marylebone, which recorded 2,214 completed consultations that month. All of these consultations were apparently recorded under the minor illness referral stream of the service, bucking a trend observed by some commentators.

Indeed, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) saw it necessary in June to remind contractors that they can claim a £15 fee for all GP-referred minor illness consultations, analysis of Merseyside contractor data having revealed that a number of these fees have gone unclaimed.

The Marylebone pharmacy’s numbers represent an impressive achievement for a business that processed just 1,213 items in the same month, and suggests that it has strong pre-existing relationships with local surgeries.

This view is reinforced by a glance at NHSBSA contractor data for December 2023, in which Meacher Higgins and Thomas recorded 2,451 Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) consultations. P3pharmacy approached the owners for more information on how they go about building these local relationships, but had not received a reply as we went to press.

It’s certainly an encouraging sign that much can be achieved by a smaller pharmacy, particularly in a busy urban location – but contractors in more rural areas and those whose local GP surgeries have been slower to tap into referral pathways (a sizeable number of practices, if anecdotal reports from frustrated pharmacy teams are anything to go by) will be left scratching their heads.

This is a key lobbying point for the CCA, which has called on the Government and NHS to address the wide variation in referral rates across different Integrated Care System (ICS) regions.

Who else is in the top 10 for Pharmacy First? Second is Overton & Pickup Pharmacy in the Greater London region of Harrow, which recorded 1,702 Pharmacy First consultations in March. As with Meacher Higgins and Thomas Pharmacy, the vast majority of these were minor illness referrals, building on already robust referral pathways that saw the business record 4,166 CPCS consultations last December.

In fact, the March figures were a huge dip month-on-month for the business, which recorded an extraordinary 3,424 Pharmacy First consultations in February. Two more pharmacies in the top 10 are in the London area – Wembley-based Optipharm Pharmacy and Enfield’s Electra Pharmacy – while a further two are in the major cities of Bristol and Sheffield.

This suggests that pharmacies in large urban areas may have an advantage over those in more remote communities, but it is still early days for the service and nothing is set in stone. Interestingly, the fifth-ranking business is Huddersfield-based, which describes itself as a “delivery only pharmacy” but managed to complete 1,163 consultations in March, the vast majority of these being minor illness referrals.

There is a strong chance that these top-ranking pharmacies are outliers and that the clinical pathway routes will be more reliable income streams for the majority of contractors. But the figures do suggest that an entrepreneurial contractor can make the service work for them.

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