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Working together to make a success of Pharmacy First

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Working together to make a success of Pharmacy First

CCA chief executive Malcolm Harrison and NPA chairman Nick Kaye share a united voice as they pledge to support contractors in England as Pharmacy First becomes a reality

After months of seemingly protracted negotiations and naysayers claiming that such a scheme would not be appropriate, a Pharmacy First service for England is about to launch.

Our organisations have invested considerable time in advocating for and getting Pharmacy First over the line. Indeed, Pharmacy First forms a key plank of both the CCA’s prospectus (A future for community pharmacy in England) and the NPA’s vision (Making Changes, Meeting Needs). Hence this joint column declaring our shared intention to help our members make a success of this strategically important NHS service.

Behind the scenes, for several years, we have repeatedly made the case for investment in the sector and the rollout of a Pharmacy First scheme. Our work on the former continues, and our work on the latter will now focus on the scheme’s successful launch, effective delivery and, hopefully, eventual expansion.

While Pharmacy First is undoubtedly the jewel in the Primary Care Recovery Plan crown, pharmacies will also now be delivering the expanded contraception and blood pressure services.

Talking to our respective members, we get the sense that this package of new and expanded services is broadly welcome. However, the sector is still feeling the pain of chronic underfunding dating back several years.

We recognise that while the package brings new investment in the sector, it is new money for new work, at a time when pharmacy businesses are facing insatiable and, unfortunately, unprofitable NHS workload demands. We are very concerned that the 1,000+ net pharmacy closures in recent years will be followed by many more if this fundamental issue isn’t resolved.

Our organisations have warned about the broken contractual funding framework and the likelihood of a contraction of the sector for many years now. It fills us with no pride to tell policymakers ‘We told you so’.

While the millions soon to be available to contractors for services is a positive and welcome development, we will continue to warn of the need for additional investment in core supply.

Many pharmacies will find the prospect of expanding services and delivering more work daunting. But recent years have proved that when push comes to shove, community pharmacies and community pharmacists stand up and deliver. It will now fall to the sector to draw upon the spirit shown during the pandemic to ensure Pharmacy First is a success.

As well as the sector’s trade associations, local pharmaceutical committees also have an important role to play in promoting the benefits of Pharmacy First and commissioning pharmacies to deliver care services with local commissioners.

As with the Covid-19 vaccination programme, ensuring this service is a success is absolutely essential. Not just for patients but, critically, for the future of the sector, it is essential to get new money flowing into businesses. There is no time to ‘ease’ into the service, but a necessity to jump into action immediately.

Something else we all need to remember is that the current funding for Pharmacy First only lasts until 2025. It is increasing likely that a new government will be in place at that point, and it may well have other priorities. So, it is up to us all to ‘turn up the volume’ and ensure the case for recurring funding is deafening.

It’s imperative that as many contractors as possible deliver the services. Equally, we will do our utmost to ensure that the case for the continuation – and expansion – of Pharmacy First is made from the outset. We have ambitious plans for a constant drumbeat of advocacy – including sharing of best practice, case studies, data and pharmacy visits – to make policymakers aware of the efforts contractors are making. We will also be making the case to add further conditions to the service, while pushing for the practical changes needed to accommodate the ever-growing workload the sector is asked to deliver.

Not everyone believes that the sector can deliver Pharmacy First. We must prove them wrong.

Ultimately, we all know that pharmacists are experts in medicines and the sector is well versed in dealing with lower acuity health problems on a large scale. Pharmacy First will be characterised by some as a recipe for overprescribing and worsening anti-microbial resistance. However, we all know that pharmacists play an integral role in AMR stewardship and take this role very seriously. In any case, and in line with standard procedure, the National Institute for Health and Care Research will be evaluating the service so that commissioners can keep a close eye on prescribing levels.

Meanwhile, our organisations will be keeping a watchful eye on any negative commentary, busting myths, and working to shape the national media campaign to promote Pharmacy First to the public. Pharmacy First has succeeded in Scotland and Wales and we are certain it will succeed in England too.

The CCA and NPA are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with pharmacies and pharmacy teams to deliver Pharmacy First, make sure it receives recurring funding beyond 2025 and make an unequivocal case for its expansion.

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