The community pharmacy sector will require additional funding and resources if it is to successfully deliver on plans for a common conditions service, according to a new report by the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA).

The government recently announced £645m investment in community pharmacies in England over the next two years, some of which will be allocated to the proposed Pharmacy First service.

This will see pharmacists across England treating seven common conditions – sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women – under patient group directions (PGDs) from winter 2023.

However, the CCA report, called The Pharmacy Paradox – matching ambition and reality’, highlights increasing capacity pressures for community pharmacies.

The research reveals that much more pharmacist time is spent dispensing (17,913,857 hours) in comparison to delivering NHS-commissioned services (2,397,433 hours), raising questions on the sector’s ability to deliver Pharmacy First.

The ‘significant increase’ in demand for services saw community pharmacies dispense 1.075 billion prescription items in 2022/2023 – around 60 million (6%) more than in 2017/18. During the same period, the number of ‘touchpoints’ between pharmacists and patients through nationally commissioned clinical services increased by 80% from 5.7 million to around 10.2 million.

The paper highlights ‘immense and growing pressure’ on pharmacists. According to the CCA, funding constraints have resulted in an annual shortfall of at least £67,000 per pharmacy in England, which has led to 720 pharmacies shutting their doors permanently.

In order to resolve the ‘paradox between ambition and reality’, the CCA has called for a number of reforms, including the commissioning of ‘ambitious, fully funded national services’ by NHS England to allow investment in people, training and infrastructure.

The report also calls for legislation to allow parts of the existing workload to be redistributed among the pharmacy team, as well as better use of new and advanced technologies.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA said: ‘Patient demand on pharmacies has increased drastically in the last few years. We know the sector has the potential to do more, but without immediate investment it is quickly reaching breaking point.

‘The government committed to legislative action four years ago and these changes are yet to materialise. Without these changes and immediate investment, the true potential of the sector will never truly be realised.’

Mr Harrison also warned: ‘It is not just the implementation of Pharmacy First at risk, other existing and essential services that could also grind to a halt.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Community pharmacies play a vital role in the NHS and we are providing them with an additional £645m investment that could free up as many as 10 million GP appointments a year.

‘This is on top of the agreed annual £2.6bn of funding set out in the pharmacy framework.’

They added: ‘We are also taking a range of actions to modernise and enable better use of resources and automation, allowing pharmacists to provide more care for patients.

‘We are working closely with NHS England and Community Pharmacy England to launch Pharmacy First by the end of 2023 and will share an update on timings shortly.’