First month of Pharmacy First shows the NHS service is enhancing patient access and directly tackling health inequalities

The first data of its kind shows strong patient interest in and demand for the NHS Pharmacy First service, despite the service only having started just over a month ago:

  • Nearly 50,000 Pharmacy First consultations were delivered by CCA members alone, equivalent to nearly 1,500 consultations a day.
  • Of those, two and half times more consultations took place in areas of higher deprivation[1].
  • Nearly a third of all consultations were conducted ‘out-of-hours’ – outside of the typical working day (9am – 6pm) and during weekends.

Read coverage of the CCA’s analysis in the Sunday Telegraph

The data shows that patients are responding favourably to the new service and the access to NHS care that it offers. Despite considerable underlying funding[2][3] and workforce[4] pressures, CCA members’ pharmacies have been able to meet the additional patient demand.

Amongst the seven conditions, sore throat has seen the highest proportion of consultations (31%), closely followed by uncomplicated urinary tract infections (27%), earache (16%) and sinusitis (14%).

The Government hopes that once scaled up the Pharmacy First service will free up 10m GP appointments by next winter[5]. This initial data indicates that this service has the potential to hit this target.

CCA modelling shows that a fully-funded and ambitious Pharmacy First service in England could free up 30m+ GP appointments a year, mirroring highly successful approaches taken in Scotland and Wales[6].

Funding for the service is currently only assured until March next year[7]. Therefore, we are urging policymakers to commit to funding for the service beyond 2025, to provide the sector with the confidence to invest even more in delivering the service, and to give patients the certainty that they can to access the care they need from their local pharmacy.

Moreover, the CCA is calling policymakers to consider how the service could be expanded beyond the current seven conditions. A recent parliamentary written answer[8] indicates that this thinking has not yet begun, despite the potential for Pharmacy First to significantly improving patient access to primary care and free up GP capacity.

Malcolm Harrison, Chief Executive of the CCA said: “Pharmacy First has been a long time coming and now it is here, the early signs show it is already delivering for patients and the NHS.

Our members delivered nearly 50,000 NHS Pharmacy First consultations in the first month, which is an incredible achievement when you consider the tremendous workload and funding pressures they are all currently under.

Patients are accessing the service across the entire week, including outside of typical work hours and at weekends. The level and nature of uptake demonstrates the need for this service. Nearly a third of all Pharmacy First consultations delivered by our members have been in the 20% of communities with the highest levels of deprivation. This proves our long-held belief that NHS services commissioned nationally through the pharmacy network immediately benefit those who need access to care the most.

Pharmacies can do a whole lot more to stop the 8am GP ‘scramble’ that many patients continue to experience, but this will only be possible if policymakers fund Pharmacy First beyond 2025 and address historic underfunding of other core pharmacy services. Unless the underlying chronic underfunding of pharmacy is addressed, local pharmacies will continue to close, making it harder for patients to obtain the medicines they need”.

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Notes to editors:

  • Data was collected by the Company Chemists’ Association, the trade association for large pharmacy operators across Great Britain, from members across a sample of 3,000+ pharmacies between 31st January and 3rd March 2024.
  • Data from 3,000+ CCA member pharmacies shows that 48,195 Pharmacy First consultations were recorded between 31st January and 3rd March 2024.
  • The NHS Pharmacy First service launched on 31st January 2024. The service allows pharmacists to provide advice and where clinically appropriate, prescription-only medicines for seven common conditions: acute otitis media (earache), impetigo, infected insect bites, shingles, sinusitis, sore throat, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women.

[1] Deprivation is measured through the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) which is the official measure of relative deprivation for neighbourhoods in England. This groups the country into 10 deciles, showing relative deprivation and affluence.

[2] Community Pharmacy England, Information for politicians

[3] There are now 1,100+ fewer pharmacies in England since 2015, CCA analysis of the latest NHS Digital Organisation Data Service data (downloaded as eDispensary files, February 2024) shows.

[4] Approximately 5,500 pharmacists have been recruited from hospitals and community pharmacies into general practice and primary care networks using the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) money, a flagship policy of the Government to increase GP capacity. This has led to significant shortages of pharmacists across all settings and driven up the cost of pharmacists.

[5] DHSC, Pharmacy First: what you need to know, February 2024

[6] CCA, Pharmacy First and Independent Prescribing, June 2023

[7] The May 2023 Delivery Plan for Recovering Primary Access announced that the Government would “invest up to £645 million over the next two years to expand community pharmacy services, subject to consultation”

[8] In a parliamentary written answer, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Dame Andrea Leadsom said “at present, there are no plans to expand the seven conditions covered by Pharmacy First” see UK Parliament, Written Question, Primary Health Care: Pharmacy, UIN 9873, January 2024


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