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Lord Markham: We had 3,000 Pharmacy First consultations in first three days

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Lord Markham: We had 3,000 Pharmacy First consultations in first three days

The health minister Nick Markham told the House of Lords on Tuesday that 3,000 Pharmacy First consultations took place in the three days after its launch and played down concerns pharmacies providing the service could be overwhelmed.

Lord Markham, who was given a peerage by the former Prime Minister Liz Truss in 2022, said the “early indications” were Pharmacy First, which started on on January 31, was being “managed well.”

“You could say that the more business (pharmacies) get is a good thing in terms of their viability. Right now, we feel that it is so far, so good,” he said. Lord Markham insisted the “intention” was to ensure NHS 111 as well as the NHS app “and other digital approaches” help “point a person to the right pathway for them.”

“If we then know that they have one of these seven conditions, such as a simple UTI, sinusitis, or something of that ilk, they will be guided towards Pharmacy First. That is very much the intention,” he said, adding “it is intended that more and more volume is put that way.”

He also said the cap on Pharmacy First consultations is designed to ensure the service “does not run out of control.” The government has allocated funding for 12 million Pharmacy First consultations each year. From April this year, there will be an initial cap of 3,000 consultations a month for each pharmacy but new caps will be introduced based on the provision of clinical pathways consultations from October 1.

Insisting it “goes back to the value for money question,” Lord Markham said: “If you can really prove that it is enhancing and substituting for GP appointments, which we all want to boost the availability of, that has to be a good thing. As ever, you need to try to set up budgets at the beginning to make sure that they are sensible in terms of that control.”

He said the government expects there will be "a base level of" pharmacies that "can do only the seven" conditions under Pharmacy First, with some pharmacies proving they "are more skilled and can manage more things, such as hypertension."

Suggesting the cap "would be perverse if those really successful ones suddenly hit the buffers," Lord Markham said the government and the Treasury launched the service "with a budget in mind and with the appropriate safeguards." But he said "overspending is actually probably good news because it shows that it is working." 

However, he conceded that not all pharmacies have access to GPs’ patient records despite having registered for Pharmacy First.

“On the IT systems and the holy grail of making sure that they are all connecting to give everyone the benefit of (their) conversation in the ‘Corridor,’ the idea is that it has to be two-way. You want to make sure that pharmacies have access to doctors’ records. That is not ready today, but it will be in the next few months,” he said.

“Likewise, you want to make sure that whatever the pharmacies do gets updated to GP records. Right now, that will be done by a simple PDF. This is not ideal because it involves a rekeying, but in a matter of weeks, it will update the GP records automatically.

“The value of that is that, obviously, while Pharmacy First is the forerunner, there are all sorts of circumstances it could be replicated for, whether appointments with physios or any other physician relevant to the patient records. I think that will be a positive when it comes in.”

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