Sector leaders have called on the government to fund Pharmacy First as the first step in commissioning clinical services, as health secretary Steve Barclay calls for pharmacists to do ‘even more’.

In a speech to the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Barclay said that there were many things that community pharmacists could support with in order to help ease pressure on general practice.

In addition to the Pharmacy Contraception Service and minor ailments referrals from primary care agreed in the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF), Mr Barclay said that he wanted community pharmacists to do ‘even more’, ‘indeed as they do in Scotland’.

In Scotland, a Pharmacy First service provides funding for community pharmacies to support patients as the first point of contact for minor health problems and advice about long-term conditions, with the aim of reducing demands on doctors and A&E services.

By its second anniversary in August, NHS Pharmacy First Scotland (PFS), had completed more than three million consultations since launching, while a similar walk-in service in Cornwall reportedly saves 400 GP appointments a month and provides the foundation for pharmacy participation in a pilot cancer screening service.

Pharmacy organisations have responded to Mr Barclay’s speech with calls for the government to fund a similar service across England.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) said that she hoped that Pharmacy First would become ‘the catalyst to future pathways delivered by community pharmacy in order to improve patients access to care - for example a vaccination first scheme as part of the prevention agenda, and integration to management of long-term conditions’.

In November, Mr Barclay said that he was looking at progressing plans for the service, but Janet Morrison, CEO of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) told The Pharmacist that the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) had been unable to commit to the £350-£400m funding package needed for the scheme.

‘We have been discussing a fully funded Pharmacy First scheme with the Government for many months – including putting a business case forward for this in our CPCF negotiations last Spring. We remain ready to start negotiations on this as soon as they want to,’ Ms Morrison said last night following Mr Barclay’s speech.

She added that the government ‘must decide whether it wants that sustainable, fully resourced community pharmacy sector which could continue to deliver huge value to patients while also doing more to ease wider NHS pressures; or does it want to continue to degrade our sector and the services that so many people rely on.

‘We very much hope the Secretary of State agrees it must be the former, and that Government is ready to back this with appropriate funding.’

Yesterday, the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) said that if funding for the sector had kept pace with growth in GDP since 2015/16, the value of the contract in 2022/23 would be more than £3.36bn – representing an annual shortfall in funding of over £750m or over £67,000 per pharmacy in England.

Mr Barclay also said that the government would work with community pharmacists to tackle barriers to offering more services, ‘including how we better use digital services’.

In October, the first pharmacist president of the National Association for Primary Care (NAPC), Ash Soni, called for joined-up digital services to help patients deliver more clinical services, while the Pharmacy APPG chair Taiwo Owatemi MP recently called for pharmacists to be given access to read and write patient notes.