Pharmacy bodies say they are unlikely to approach NHS England (NHSE) for additional time for pharmacy contractors to complete the Pharmacy Quality Scheme (PQS) this winter, amid concerns that contractors will not have the capacity to complete it.

This comes after some pharmacists called for the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) and the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) to put pressure on NHSE to extend the PQS completion time frame in light of the additional pressure the sector is facing this year.

As it stands, contractors have until 25 February to complete the quality criteria to then be eligible for the £75m funding. Contractors will also be able to claim an aspiration payment later in the year.

Writing on Twitter, Martin Bennett, superintendent at Wicker Pharmacy, said: ‘[It is] time for PSNC and the NPA to lobby for an immediate time extension for PQS.

‘If NHSE wants pharmacies to take on some of the GP load (GP CPCS, Hypertension, OCMS, Flu and Covid vaccinations) along with the extra workload from the pandemic, staff shortages and Christmas, we need time,’ he said.

Ashley Cohen, pharmacist and managing director of Pharm-Assist, told The Pharmacist: ‘It is a stressful time again in pharmacy. We are providing the biggest flu programme, starting hypertension service and increased capacity of NMS. The bureaucracy of box-ticking for PQS points at this time is not necessary.’

When asked to comment on the concerns, Alastair Buxton, PSNC’s director of NHS Services said that the PQS for this year (2021/22) had already been adjusted to take into account additional pressures this winter.

He told The Pharmacist: ‘During negotiations, PSNC was conscious of the upcoming winter pressures so pushed to keep the PQS requirements manageable and achieved a reduction in the original scope by half. Much of what has been included built on schemes in previous years and as usual PSNC has provided a raft of resources to support contractors, lessening the impact on workload further.

‘Whilst this is a very busy period for the sector, it should also be noted that the Hypertension Case-Finding Service is an opt-in service, and we expect people to work on PQS first. Additionally, it was for individual contractors to decide whether to put themselves forward to undertake Covid-19 vaccinations.’

Mr Buxton added: ‘Details of this year's scheme were released ahead of other arrangements for 2021/22 to provide as much time as possible for completing the criteria. Contractors have until the end of the February 2022 declaration period to meet the requirements, but the earlier Aspiration payment claim deadline provides access to that vital funding before the end of this calendar year.’

When asked whether the NPA would request the PQS time frame be extended, a spokesperson said: ‘Pharmacies have faced an increased workload since the start of the pandemic last year, and they remain very busy. This is especially true of independents without a large head office to manage the administrative workload.

‘The NPA has a dedicated team that has been offering advice and support to members on the PQS, which began on 1 September 2021. That support will continue until the end of the declaration period on 25 February 2022.’

It comes after over 11,100 pharmacies across England completed part one of the PQS this year, 640 more than the number that completed it the previous year.

In November 2020, PSNC asked that contractors be given more time to complete the second part of the PQS.

A version of the scheme — the Community Pharmacy Quality Payments Scheme (QPS) — was initially introduced in December 2016.

It was created to reward community pharmacies for delivering quality criteria in all three of the quality dimensions: clinical effectiveness, patient safety and patient experience.

NHS England and NHS Improvement then developed the Pharmacy Quality Scheme (PQS) for 2019/20 and 2020/21.