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Pharmacy First provision is a “postcode lottery” says CCA

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Pharmacy First provision is a “postcode lottery” says CCA

postcode lottery of provision is already emerging with England’s Pharmacy First service, the Company Chemists’ Association has claimed.

Analysis by the CCA shows that patient engagement with Pharmacy First is quickly resembling a patchwork quilt across the country. Patients in the highest-performing ICS areas are benefitting from seven times the number of Pharmacy First consultations than the lowest performing, the trade body says.

The CCA looked at Pharmacy First data collected from its members eleven weeks into the service. As of April 21, more than 3,000 CCA member pharmacies had delivered 126,484 Pharmacy First consultations since the service launch. 

The analysis found that:

  • Almost 13,000 consultations were completed across the North East and North Cumbria ICS but only 948 carried out Gloucestershire ICS. 
  • If every ICS had as many consultations as the highest-performing ICS, there would have been a potential additional 600,000 Pharmacy First consultations
  • Three in 10 GP surgeries (1,972) have referred a patient for a Pharmacy First consultation, but seven in 10 of those referrals (69 per cent) were from a very small minority (7 per cent) of practices. 

Despite previous research showing electronic referrals from other parts of the NHS accounted for only a quarter of Pharmacy First consultations, there appears to be a close link between referrals and the number of Pharmacy First consultations, says the CCA. The three ICSs with the highest number of consultations (North East and North Cumbria, Greater Manchester, and Cheshire and Merseyside) had the highest number of electronic referrals from other parts of their local NHS. 

The data also shows that the NHS advertising campaign has had little or no impact on the volume of Pharmacy First consultations, says the CCA.

Action needed

Making the point that a fully funded and ambitious Pharmacy First service in England could free up more than 30 million GP appointments each year, the CCA is calling on policymakers to adopt a three-pronged strategy to ensure the success of the service:

  1. Deploy high-quality and targeted public engagement campaigns over the coming months to raise awareness of Pharmacy First to patients and members of the public to ensure behaviour change is embedded before winter pressures set in
  2. Embrace best practice from higher-performing ICSs including bespoke support and training for GP surgeries to increase referral numbers
  3. Commit to fund Pharmacy First beyond 2025, giving patients, community pharmacies and general practice the confidence that the service will be there when they need it. 

Malcolm Harrison, CCA chief executive, said that while Pharmacy First had seen a promising start, there is still a long way to go to harness its full potential.

For patients to gain the maximum benefit from this nationally available service, it is imperative that Pharmacy First is fully and equally implemented across the whole country. This requires a concerted effort to change behaviours so that patients think ‘Pharmacy First’ for common conditions, he said. 

Key to this is boosting public awareness and supporting GP surgeries to refer patients into pharmacy, he continued. “Surgeries need targeted support to boost referrals and efforts to share best practice across and between ICSs.

Listen to Malcolm Harrison in Pharmacy Magazine’s latest In Conversation With podcast. Click here.

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