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Mixed blessings with Pharmacy First


Mixed blessings with Pharmacy First

Pharmacy First has got off to a roaring start, if figures from the Company Chemists’ Association are anything to go by. CCA data indicates that in the first four and a half weeks of the service, large pharmacy multiples recorded a total of 48,195 consultations, with sore throat and UTIs making up the bulk of clinical pathway queries.

Thirty per cent of all consultations were with patients living in the areas most blighted by socioeconomic deprivation – two and a half times the rate observed in the most affluent parts of England. These patients – almost 1,500 a day and that’s just the multiples – all received prompt, appointment-free care from highly skilled pharmacists. And crucially, they didn’t take up GP appointments – a big win for commissioners.

CCA chief Malcolm Harrison said the findings prove “our long-held belief” that nationally commissioned pharmacy services “immediately benefit those who need access to care the most”.

But behind these figures lies a more complex picture. It’s no secret that many GP receptionists never got to grips with Pharmacy First’s predecessor, the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, and simply sent patients to pharmacies without using the correct pathways – meaning pharmacies couldn’t claim any fees for their eff orts. Despite a high profile advertising campaign, there is evidence the new service is being met with a similar shrug in some quarters as pharmacies report more ‘informal’ referrals.

Pharmacies badly need those fees, and even they are unlikely to keep the wolf from the door. There is no evidence that the rise in net pharmacy closures has abated, and the worsening issues around drugs reimbursement are leaving more contractors out of pocket than ever before. One thing policymakers could do as a matter of urgency would be to at least assure the sector it will continue funding the service after the first 12 months.

Then there has been the long-running IT saga. We still don’t know when pharmacies will have full access to GP Connect, and the service launch has been mired in crashes and glitches for far too many contractors.

And are the GPs even happy? The Doctors’ Association UK – the “voice of frontline doctors” if you please – certainly doesn’t seem to be. Back when the Pharmacy First service was announced, it published the dubious claim that pharmacies were being showered with £48 consultation fees (when activity threshold payments are accounted for) while GPs were being left to rot.

Despite it being pointed out that the Doctors’ Association’s sums were iffy as like-for-like comparisons between the two sectors’ funding models cannot be made, spokesperson Dr Steve Taylor recently went on a social media rant in which he repeatedly intoned the daft mantra “Pharmacy First – GPs second”.

There’s no pleasing some people, it seems. Which is a shame, as cooperation from all parties will be needed to stop primary care tipping into the abyss.

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