Health minsters in England could learn from Scotland's recent community pharmacy funding agreement about the need to invest in the pharmacy network in order successfully a deliver Pharmacy First service, Phoenix UK Group managing director Steve Anderson has suggested.

The deal for Scotland’s contractors that was agreed last week was ‘not just a good outcome for patients in Scotland’ but also ‘a beacon of hope for patients across the UK who need access to essential NHS care, support and advice beyond GP surgeries and A&E,’ he said.

He said that the Scottish Government’s commitment to ‘fair funding’ was a ‘fundamental lesson’ for England to learn as it develops its own ‘Pharmacy First’ approach.

A Pharmacy First service is set to launch in England before the end of 2023, which will allow community pharmacists to supply prescription-only medicines to treat seven common health conditions under a patient group direction (PGD).

And negotiations are currently ongoing between Community Pharmacy England (CPE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) about how the £645m funding for the service will be allocated.

But amid financial pressures, community pharmacy leaders in England have raised concerns about the sector’s capacity to deliver the service.

Last month, the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), warned that the proposed Pharmacy First service, as well as existing services, were at risk without additional funding and resources.

In Scotland, a Pharmacy First service was launched in 2020, which is funded from the sector’s global sum.

And Mr Anderson said that the Sottish Government’s long-term commitment to investment in community pharmacy and recognition of the sector as an essential part of the health system had contributed to making Scotland’s Pharmacy First service ‘the most advanced’ in Europe.

‘For years Scotland has been trailblazing the delivery of patient services through pharmacies. Phoenix has a presence in 29 countries across Europe and I can tell you that Scotland’s Pharmacy First model is the most advanced in terms of scope, breadth, and ambition,’ he said.

In May, Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS) members ‘unanimously rejected’ the government’s initial funding offer, before reaching an agreement last week for a 6% increase on the global sum, as well as a guaranteed minimum (retained margin) of £100m and £80m in ‘mapped money’, which is used to support the delivery of services.

‘Had Scotland faltered in its fair funding commitment to pharmacy then English ministers may have concluded they can get “pharmacy first” on the cheap through a pharmacy network which is slowly shrinking,’ Mr Anderson said.

Trend data from the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) shows that the number of pharmacies in England has decreased by over 5% since 2015, but has increased by 0.5% in Scotland over the same time period.

This data refers to all types of pharmacy premises, including community, hospital and internet pharmacies.

Mr Anderson added: ‘Community pharmacy is not a cost centre to be relentlessly squeezed, rather it is at the heart of improving healthcare outcomes from illness prevention to long-term condition management.

And he noted that the Phoenix group, which owns Numark, will ‘continue to lobby ministers, officials, and policy makers to ensure they understand that community pharmacy is a solution to increasing patient demand and expectations’.