The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) has urged the Government to urgently review why pharmacies are paid ‘more than double’ per consultation compared with GPs.
Details of the Pharmacy First scheme – which will see community pharmacies prescribing for seven common conditions – were announced last week.
Pharmacies can claim an initial fixed payment of £2,000 from December up to the launch of the service in January, and as part of the scheme, they will also be paid £15 per consultation.
From February next year, pharmacy contractors delivering the service will receive a fixed payment of £1,000 per month, subject to delivering a minimum number of consultations.
Only consultations under the new clinical pathways will count towards the minimum number, which will increase month to month as the service progresses.
The number of consultations required per month will start at one in February and gradually rise to 30 in October 2024. For the first six months, pharmacies will need to do no more than 10 consultations a month to get the £1,000 payment.
According to DAUK calculations this equates to £48 per consultation, more than double the £23 per consultation that GPs currently receive.
DAUK GP spokesperson Dr Steve Taylor said this highlighted ‘significant disparities in funding’ and asked the health secretary to urgently review the amount of money allocated to general practice.
He said: ‘A consultation at £48 is a reasonable fee but NHS GPs are receiving less than half that and are struggling to fund the staff they need and the quality of care patients want.
‘If you look at the funding formulas for GPs, it’s increased from £153 per head in 2015 to £163 now with no cap on consultations. It’s effectively a cut in real terms.
‘The amount of extra work that practices are doing has gone up 18% in that time, so they’re doing more work and doing it for less.’
The average patient now receives seven consultations a year, most of which will be ‘much more complex than those being now shared with pharmacists’, he added.
‘It’s making it harder for general practices to be financially viable, which means that GPs can’t afford to employ and recruit members of staff, which effectively reduces capacity, and is even causing some GPs to leave the profession.
‘We urge the new health secretary to urgently respond to the needs of practices and support GPs so they can continue to provide care for patients.’
Dr Euan Strachan-Orr, a GP in Liverpool and spokesperson for the Rebuild General Practice Campaign, said: ‘If similar investment was provided directly into core general practice, we could fund more GPs, providing direct care to patients in their community, who are finding it increasingly difficult to see a GP and have their ongoing healthcare needs met.
‘We have locum GPs unable to find work, yet have pots of money for other schemes. It simply doesn’t make sense.
‘General practice will still have to be there to pick up the pieces when this scheme doesn’t deliver for patients, and it needs direct investment to support our patients, not tinkering round the edges with headline grabbing schemes such as this.’
From January next year community pharmacists will be able access and add to patient records currently maintained by GPs and from next month, they will also be able to initiate oral contraception.
A version of this article first appeared in our sister title Pulse