The Community Pharmacy Consultation Scheme (CPCS) will be expanded to include referrals from emergency departments and urgent treatment centres from 15 May 2023.

This comes alongside the announcement of controversial regulative easements around opening hours and rest breaks, as well as a reduction in the scope of the Pharmacy Quality Scheme (PQS).

‘No point’ introducing new services pharmacies can’t provide

From 15 May 2023, contractors may start to receive referrals from UEC – that is, urgent treatment centres and emergency departments – who have implemented electronic referrals, as set out in the May 2023 Drug Tariff.

In its Primary Care Bulletin published yesterday (27 April), NHS England (NHSE) said that the service specification would be published ‘in due course’ and that it was ‘working with the community pharmacy IT supplier market to develop integrated referrals to support this pathway’.

But the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said that the changes had been made by DHSC and NHSE in ‘contradiction of our warning to ministers that no new or expanded services can be rolled out in 2023/24 unless extra funding is put into community pharmacies’.

This came days after sign-up opened for the new Pharmacy Contraception Service, which less than 4% of pharmacies registered for in its first two days of being available, as revealed by The Pharmacist.

‘We have been clear with government and the NHS that their money has run out – there is simply not enough funding available for pharmacies to deliver new services in year five,’ PSNC chief executive Janet Morrison said in a statement.

‘It’s incredibly frustrating that these warnings are not being heeded – there is simply no point in NHS England rolling out services that pharmacies cannot afford to provide or deliver to the standard patients deserve.’

 ’Helpful concessions’ on PQS

But she added that ministers had made ‘helpful concessions’ on the Pharmacy Quality Scheme (PQS).

The reduction in scope includes the removal of the two clinical audits this year, as well as rerouting some of the PQS funding into core funding.

‘This is an improvement on previous years, although I know that in reality it is far too little to help ease the crippling pressures that contractors are grappling with,’ Ms Morrison said.

‘Urgent action’ needed to avoid ‘catastrophic’ impacts

She added: ‘Government and the NHS have all the evidence they need to show them that without urgent action they – and the public – will lose significant parts of the community pharmacy sector, and soon. This would be catastrophic for pharmacy, patients and for primary care and we are doing everything within our power to prevent it from happening.’

Ms Morrison said that the sector’s ‘best hope’ for additional funding was a fully-funded Pharmacy First service.

She added that the highly anticipated Primary Care Recovery Plan ‘must deliver this, or another funding lifeline, to community pharmacies, and quickly’.