Community pharmacies have been asked to expand their services within primary care as part of the health secretary Dr Thérèse Coffey’s new plan for patient access and the new pharmacy contract.
A document outlining the new access plans, called Our Plan for Patients and published last week, said the Government would ‘expand the range of services available from community pharmacies, increasing convenience for patients and freeing up GP time for more complex needs of patients’.
These services include the ability to manage and supply more medicines without a prescription from a GP and making diagnostic tests available in community pharmacy.
The Department of Health and Social Care added that this move could potentially free up to two million general practice appointments per year.
In a separate community pharmacy contract document, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said there would be an expansion of contraception management and minor illness referrals.
The first step of this is a tiered rollout of greater contraception management.
From 11 January 2023, tier one of a pharmacy contraception service will be implemented, allowing pharmacists to provide ongoing management of routine oral contraception that was initiated in general practice or a sexual health clinic.
But, from 4 October 2023, community pharmacists will be expected to initiate oral contraception and provide ongoing clinical checks and annual reviews as part of a tier two service.
Other updates within the pharmacy contract include:
- From March 2023, pharmacies will be able to take referrals from emergency care for minor illnesses or symptoms, such as a cough, headache or sore throat.
- From 19 April 2023, subject to the evaluation of an ongoing pilot, the New Medicines Service will be expanded to include antidepressants. This will enable newly prescribed patients to receive ‘extra support’ from their community pharmacist.
- Pharmacy technicians will also now be able to deliver blood pressure checks and smoking cessation services.
However, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has urged the Government to provide fresh funding to ‘match the level of ambition’ within the plans.
‘While the health secretary is busy telling broadcasters that pharmacies can relieve more pressure from GPs, the investment that’s needed to achieve this is nowhere to be seen,’ said NPA vice-chair Nick Kaye.
Meanwhile, the BMA said that the wider access plan represented ‘minor tweaks that will make no tangible difference to patients struggling to access care’.
The Government’s plan also includes adding two roles – GP assistants and digital transformation leads – to the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS).