Community Pharmacy England has admitted concerns over the minimum number of consultations required for pharmacies to receive full funding for the Pharmacy First scheme.

Contractors signing up to provide Pharmacy First – which launches on 31 January 2024 – will receive an initial fixed payment of £2,000, which can be claimed from December 2023.

From February 2024, participating contractors will then receive a fixed payment of £1,000 per month, subject to delivering a minimum number of consultations, along with a payment of £15 per consultation.

The number required to claim the fixed payment starts at one and increases incrementally up to October 2024. From then, 30 consultations a month will be required to claim the fixed monthly payment. This must include only consultations for Pharmacy First’s seven common conditions, with those for other bundled services discounted.

Speaking in a webinar looking into the background of Pharmacy First, Alastair Buxton, CPE’s director of NHS services, admitted that ’30 does seem high’.

According to Mr Buxton, CPE ‘worked very hard’ in negotiations to get the number down as low as possible and to secure the ‘glide path’ where the number builds to the level that ‘NHS England insisted on’.

However, he added: ‘I think we are still concerned about that 30 level, and whether it’s too high. Only time will tell.

‘That’s why monitoring the data is going to be so important, to see how things start to develop when it’s out in the real world.’

Janet Morrison, CPE chief executive, assured webinar viewers that the organisation was ‘not underestimating the challenge for all pharmacies’.

Explaining the negotiation process, she said: ‘The activity thresholds as they first put them in were coming in much sooner, and they wanted to get to that 30 much quicker and much earlier than is in the plan that has been published.

‘We had to push that really hard because we don’t know what take up will be like and we don’t know how many people will start to walk into Pharmacy First rather than going to GPs.’

Mr Buxton acknowledged that ‘you never get everything that you want’ in multifactorial negotiations and that NHS England had been ‘very clear that they need to look at cost-effectiveness for the public purse’.

Ms Morrison added: ‘We also worked to increase the service fees, wanting to make sure the monthly payments were healthy and would support ongoing capacity.

‘We argued very strongly about [making] sure it’s not a risk factor for business owners, and we also wanted to see improvements in terms of supporting implementation.’

CPE is hosting a series of webinars to help pharmacy owners and their teams to prepare for the launch of the new Pharmacy First service, as well as changes to the contraception and hypertension case-finding services. The series includes Pharmacy First: Getting to know the service on 13 December 2023, and Pharmacy First: Getting ready for launch on 15 January 2024.