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Editor's view: Pharmacy boost to women's health


Editor's view: Pharmacy boost to women's health

The new NHS pharmacy contraception service could be transformative for the sector – just not this month, says PM editor Richard Thomas.

The announcement that the January launch of the national pharmacy contraception service in England was to be delayed, although obviously disappointing, is hopefully only a glitch. 

As we report in our January sexual health feature, feedback from the pilot sites, while positive overall, indicated that the reporting systems and IT underpinning the service could be improved – so it makes sense to get the tech right before contractors finally get the green light, hopefully in the spring.

The pressure is on systems suppliers to get their bytes and PCs in order because the signs are that this service could absolutely fly. While taking on board the concerns of PSNC and others about the sector’s crippling capacity problems, the good news is that the service designers have got this one right. Rather than relying on cumbersome and complicated referral pathways like the CPCS or DMS, the contraception service is built to capitalise on the immediacy and accessibility of community pharmacy.

Tier 1 of the service will involve pharmacists providing ongoing management of routine oral contraception initiated in general practice or a sexual health clinic directly to women presenting with an OC prescription – no referral is necessary. Pharmacy teams in the pilot have been proactive in identifying eligible patients by, for example, promoting the service to local GPs or looking at repeat prescribing patterns for the pill. All very achievable.

The service has been sensibly designed in stages too.

Subject to a positive evaluation of the pilot, Tier 2 will enable community pharmacists to initiate oral contraception themselves via a PGD and provide clinical checks and annual reviews. In time, the scheme will expand to also include management and initiation of long-acting reversible contraception.

The new service will ultimately give women much greater choice and access to contraception, utilising pharmacy to relieve pressure elsewhere in the system. Everybody wins. What’s not to like about that?

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