Tier two of the pharmacy contraception service will launch on 1 December, allowing community pharmacies to initiate oral contraception, NHS England (NHSE) has announced.

This comes alongside announcements of Pharmacy First beginning from 31 January and a re-launch of the community pharmacy blood pressure check service from 1 December.

Health leaders have welcomed the opportunity for nearly half a million people to access the combined oral contraceptive pill on their high streets next year, according to estimates from NHSE.

But some have warned there may be issues with the roll-out of the service, including concerns about whether the necessary IT infrastructure will be ready in time.

And while the changes will commence from 1 December, pharmacy teams will be able to notify NHSE whenever they are ready to begin delivering the service after this launch date.

NHSE said that the nhs.uk webpage would be updated as more pharmacies sign up to provide the service, enabling people to check online to see where it is being offered locally.

Community pharmacies providing the service will continue to receive a fee of £18 per consultation.

Community Pharmacy England (CPE) said that it had asked for an increase in the Pharmacy Contraception Service fee, supported by ‘detailed costing rationale’, but that this was rejected by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHSE.

The pharmacy negotiator also stressed it was ‘clear that IT systems must be in place ahead of service launches’.

And it noted that to enable this expansion, as well as Pharmacy First and blood pressure check services, ‘pharmacy owners will have access to clinical services IT systems which will send data to the NHSBSA’s MYS portal and to GP records, and allow more parts of the GP record to be seen’.

‘This is a significant step forward that will support the future development of community pharmacy services,’ CPE added.

In addition, it said it had ‘successfully argued for greater use of skill-mix in the Hypertension Case-Finding and Pharmacy Contraception Services’, and that more detail would be provided once service specifications and patient group directions (PGDs) are published.

When the pharmacy contraception service was piloted earlier this year, more than 4,500 women who had already accessed the pill were able to receive an ongoing supply of oral contraception at their local pharmacy, NHSE said today.

And when tier 1 of the Pharmacy Contraception service was launched in April, more than 15% of community pharmacies in England signed up to provide it within the first few weeks, as revealed by The Pharmacist.

Tier 2 of the service was originally set to begin in October this year, but both the first and second stages of the service roll-out were delayed.

Before the additional £645m for the new services was announced in May, concerns were raised that all payments for the contraception service ‘will ultimately be clawed back by NHS England’, given that all existing funds were ‘in effect already allocated to other pharmacy activity’, according to the National Pharmacy Association (NPA).

Alongside £645m in new money for Pharmacy First, the contraception service, the blood pressure check service and IT infrastructure improvements, CPE announced today that it has also secured an additional write-off of funding over-delivery worth £112m.

NHSE chief executive Amanda Pritchard commented on the launch of the expanded service: ‘This is really good news for women – we all lead increasingly busy lives, and thanks to this action, rather than making a GP appointment, they can simply pop into their local pharmacy when they need or want to access contraception.’

William Pett, head of policy, public affairs and research at Healthwatch England, highlighted the importance of effective communication about the service, as well as potential issues around IT systems and patient access.

‘Women across England will welcome the convenience of getting the contraceptive pill at a local pharmacy,’ he said.

‘Being able to see your GP in a timely manner remains the public's top concern. If this initiative is effectively communicated and delivered, it will make a real difference to patients and relieve the pressure on hard-pressed services.’

But he added: ‘There could be potential problems, such as pharmacists not being able to see enough of people's GP records or the ability of different communities and areas to access the new service.

‘However, if evaluated well, the NHS will be able to ensure that this promising new service really works for patients,’ Mr Pett said.