Pharmacy First launch

Department of Health and Social Care written statement – made am ar 31 Ionawr 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Following constructive consultation with Community Pharmacy England, I am very pleased to inform the House that on Wednesday 31 January 2024 the Pharmacy First Service will be launched in community pharmacies in England.

Pharmacy First was announced in May 2023 in the Delivery Plan for Recovering Access to Primary Care. This made significant new funding available for community pharmacies to deliver Pharmacy First and to deliver more blood pressure checks and contraception consultations. The new and expanded services will release around 10 million appointments in general practice per year once scaled. We want to do everything we can to support our GPs in supporting patients with higher acuity conditions – a job they do so well. Making use of the clinical skills in community pharmacy does just that.

Four in five people in England can reach a community pharmacy within a 20-minute walk and there are twice as many pharmacies in the most deprived communities. Our vision is to support community pharmacists to evolve further into a more clinically focused role, with members of the public able to take full advantage of their skills and capabilities. Pharmacy’s role has been increasing in recent years. In 2019 we set out how we would work to embed and integrate community pharmacy into the NHS, delivering more clinical services and making them the first port of call for many minor illnesses. We had already made good progress, for example:

  • General practice, NHS111 and Urgent and Emergency Care (UEC) can now refer patients to community pharmacies for advice and treatment for minor illnesses, and NHS111 and UEC can also refer for urgent medicines supply. Over 3.4 million referrals have been made through these routes to date.
  • We expanded the New Medicine Service which supports over 200,000 people a month when they start new medicines and we introduced the Discharge Medicine Service which supports 8,000 patients a month who have had their medicines changed following a visit to hospital, reducing medication errors and readmissions.
  • Over 9,000 pharmacies have delivered over 2 million blood pressure checks since October 2021, allowing those with high blood pressure to be identified and referred for onward management. The Delivery plan has made funding available for 2.5 million additional checks. It is estimated this could prevent over 1,350 cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes in the first full year of service, and could lead to savings of around £13 million across primary, secondary and social care.
  • We introduced a contraception service in April 2023 to enable community pharmacists to manage oral contraception on the basis of an existing prescription and in December 2023 this service was expanded so that pharmacists can now also initiate oral contraception. The Delivery plan has made more funding available for this service so that up to half a million women will be able to access oral contraception through their pharmacy.

Pharmacy First will go further, building on this success and enabling pharmacists to supply prescription-only medicines, including antibiotics and antivirals where clinically appropriate, to treat seven common health conditions without the need to visit a GP. The seven conditions are sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women. Patients will be able to walk into a pharmacy if they have symptoms or may be referred to a community pharmacy by a GP or NHS111. 94 percent of pharmacies have signed up to deliver Pharmacy First from 31 January 2024.

The investment in Pharmacy First will also deliver significant upgrades in the digital infrastructure in community pharmacy. This will streamline referrals to and from other NHS services, provide additional access to relevant clinical information from the GP record, and share structured updates quickly and efficiently following a pharmacy consultation back into the GP patient record.

Pharmacy First is the next step on the journey to make the best possible use of the knowledge and expertise of community pharmacists and their teams, improving patient access to care.