Community Pharmacy England (CPE) has defended funding plans for the soon-to-launch Pharmacy First service after analysis by the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) suggested GPs would receive lower payments for consultations than pharmacists.

In response to DAUK’s claim, Janet Morrison, chief executive of CPE, said there were ‘fundamental differences’ between how pharmacies and GPs are paid for services, making such comparisons ‘worthless’.

She also suggested that DAUK ‘should be directing their frustration about funding towards the government, not fellow healthcare professionals’.

Pharmacy contractors signing up to provide the new service, launching on 31 January 2024, will receive an initial fixed payment of £2,000, which can be claimed from December 2023.

From February 2024, participating contractors will then receive a fixed payment of £1,000 per month, subject to delivering a minimum number of consultations, along with a payment of £15 per consultation.

As reported by our sister title Pulse, the DAUK’s analysis claimed that the arrangements will see pharmacists receive £48 per consultation for the seven common conditions included in the Pharmacy First scheme, compared with the £23 fee that GPs currently receive per consultation.

This has led to the association calling on the government to urgently review the amount of money allocated to general practice.

However, in a strong rebuttal, Ms Morrison of CPE said: ‘It is just not on to use news of a new service that would help take pressure off GPs as a way to diminish the work of pharmacies.’

She countered DAUK’s analysis by pointing out that GP funding is ‘largely based on capitation payments whilst community pharmacy owners only get paid when patients actively use their services’.

This, she said, means ‘a lot of the overheads of running a pharmacy are not directly funded, unlike the GP model’.

Ms Morrison added that the British Medical Association’s General Practitioners Committee had ‘expressed strong support for the direction of travel’ of Pharmacy First when CPE made its initial bid for the scheme in 2022, ‘recognising that the wider primary care team has to be part of the solution to GP access challenges’.

Earlier this week, NHS England published the service specifications for Pharmacy First.

According to the document, pharmacy contractors providing the service will be paid according to arrangements set out within the Drug Tariff. This will include a block payment, a consultation fee and arrangements to cover the reimbursement of any NHS medicines supplied.

Only clinical pathway consultations that cross the gateway point and reach an outcome set out in the pathway (without onward referral to another pharmacy), will count towards the monthly minimum number of consultations stipulated for the block payment.