A national Pharmacy First marketing campaign will be launched in mid-February to encourage the public to ‘access advice and treatment’ from community pharmacies for common conditions, NHS England (NHSE) has confirmed.

The announcement comes amid concerns that patient demands will significantly increase when the service launches at the end of the month and that pharmacists could be at risk of increased abuse as a result.

A letter from NHSE today, which also officially confirmed the 31 January start date and revealed more than 10,000 pharmacies had signed up to deliver the scheme, said the national marketing campaign would run for six weeks.

In addition, NHSE said it was developing a ‘communications toolkit’ for integrated care boards (ICBs) to use ‘to share information across their channels’. The Pharmacist has sought more information from NHSE on this.

The campaign appears to be coming some weeks after Pharmacy First begins, with NHSE noting that it expects activity for the service to ‘increase gradually following the launch’.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists' Association (CCA) told The Pharmacist that the marketing campaign would be 'critical to bolstering patient awareness of the service.'

And he suggested that the fact that the 'vast majority' of pharmacies in England - more than 10,000 to date, according to the latest update from NHSE - had signed up to the service demonstrated the sector's 'readiness' to deliver Pharmacy First.

'Pharmacies have an excellent track record for ensuring excellent access for patients to NHS services and we are confident they are ready to do this again,' he said.

While Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) said: 'Finding the service is one thing, wanting to use the service rather than a GP is another thing. The success of the service will also depend on GPs being onboard and supporting it and working collaboratively with pharmacies.'

The update follows an exclusive analysis by The Pharmacist which showed the pharmacy sector appeared to be torn between welcoming the opportunity of the new service and wondering whether patient demand will exceed its capacity.

Beran Patel, from Brigstock Road Pharmacy in Greater London, told The Pharmacist earlier this month that he feared if the doors to the service opened alongside advertisement ‘you’re going to get hit with so many people wanting the service’.

‘This is my issue: that the floodgates will open, and we [will have to] manage that capacity,’ he added.

Meanwhile, over three-quarters of pharmacists surveyed recently by the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) shared concerns that patient expectations of the new service would not be met and that patients might become aggressive due to unrealistic expectations.

Conversely, Healthwatch England recently suggested patients might be hesitant about the new service. ‘Pharmacy First is welcome, but there are going to be some restrictions on how quickly some patients are going to want to take up some of those services,’ said head of policy, public affairs and research William Pett.