Pharmacists have been advised to start making preparations ahead of the launch of the common conditions service this winter.

Although the service specifications for Pharmacy First in England have not yet been published, it is understood that a series of PGDs will enable pharmacists to treat seven common conditions, supplying medicines including antibiotics where necessary.

At the Pharmacy Show this week, representatives from the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) outlined a range of steps that they believe community pharmacy teams could do now to get ready for the new service.

  1. Start with the community pharmacist consultation scheme

Jay Badenhorst, vice-chair of the NPA, suggested that the common conditions scheme built upon the existing community pharmacist consultation scheme (CPCS) and suggested that superintendent pharmacists begin to implement with CPCS if they hadn’t already.

CPCS would help embed some of the processes and insurance that would be needed for the common conditions service, Mr Badenhorst said, detailing the progression of giving advice and guidance before supplying a product for symptom relief, either through an over-the-counter sale or under a PGD, and stressed the importance of keeping up to date with and following relevant NICE guidelines.

The CPCS service specification also stresses the importance of recognising ‘red flags’ and referring to a patient’s GP or other relevant services where appropriate, and Mr Badenhorst noted that community pharmacy IT systems would be updated to enable streamlined referrals.

  1. Train staff – including pharmacy technicians

Any staff delivering patients consultations should undertake consultation skills training, including learning how to take a patient’s history, Mr Badenhorst suggested.

And he said that the NPA expected pharmacy technicians to be able to operate under PGDs following the government’s consultation.

‘So, make sure that your technicians are appropriately trained,’ he told the Pharmacy Show delegates, since the common conditions service will be PGD-based.

In particular, Mr Badenhorst noted the importance of undertaking antimicrobial stewardship training and following guidance.

He stressed that ‘antibiotics is of course not the fix to everything’, while encouraging pharmacists to consider alternatives.

  1. Get all the devices you’ll need, and learn how to use them

Some of the services contained within Pharmacy First might require the use of specialist devices, such as looking inside patients’ ears.

‘Have you got training in order to do that, but also crucially, have you got the device?’ Mr Badenhorst prompted delegates to consider.

  1. Make sure you have the right insurance

‘Don't automatically assume that whatever you do within your pharmacy is already covered by the insurance,’ Me Badenhorst warned, encouraging superintendent pharmacists to contact their insurance provider to check that the common conditions service would be covered.

He added that it was ‘very, very vital’ to get the right insurance in place.

  1. Get your premises and IT ready

‘It goes without saying, you need a computer in your consultation room. If you haven't got one, I would probably advise you to start thinking about [that] now,’ Mr Badenhorst suggested.

And he stressed the importance of having up-to-date operating systems installed.

  1. Get protocols in place, and plan to record consent, incidents and feedback

Mr Badenhorst told superintendent pharmacists to ensure that they had the right protocols and standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place around the sales of medicines.

And he said that it was ‘absolutely vital’ to have SOPs in place to get consent from patients, especially given that the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) Provider Assurance Team (PAT) is now undertaking post-payment verification for the hypertension case-finding service.

He added that it could be ‘really helpful’ to gather complaints and suggestions from patients.

In addition, he said that superintendents could adapt their dispensing incident forms to be able to record any incidents that happened during a consultation.

‘Crucial’ to demonstrate success of Pharmacy First

Meanwhile, Gareth Jones, the NPA’s director of external and corporate affairs, stressed that the common conditions service and independent prescribing pathfinder pilot, gave the sector ‘two incredibly important new developments’, and that it was ‘crucial that both of these services succeed’.

He noted the importance of demonstrating the success of the service to the government, including around good antimicrobial stewardship.

Also at the Pharmacy Show, the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer (CPhO) for England, David Webb, outlined how medicines optimisation and managing major conditions could be future opportunities for community pharmacists.

And Ali Sparke, director for pharmacy, optometry, dentistry and the NHS Standard Contract at NHS England, suggested that demonstrating the success of the common conditions service was the best opportunity that community pharmacy had had ‘in years’ to develop a stronger foundation for the sector.

Meanwhile former pharmacy minister Steve Brine told The Pharmacist that he was confident that Pharmacy First would succeed, despite the current challenges facing the community pharmacy sector.