Pharmacy owners and superintendent pharmacists (SPs) will need to ‘continually assess’ whether enough trained and competent staff are available to provide Pharmacy First safely and effectively, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has said.

‘We recognise that offering a wider range of services brings challenges as well as opportunities,’ the GPhC said in an email sent to contractors and superintendents this week, following the launch of Pharmacy First in England.

The regulator said that in order to ensure patient safety, owners and SPs would ‘need to continually assess staffing levels and skill mix to make sure there are enough staff that have sufficient training, knowledge, and skills to be able to provide all pharmacy services safely and effectively’.

The GPhC added that it was ‘essential’ that pharmacy teams were ‘supported and empowered’ to exercise their professional judgement ‘in the interests of patients and the public’.

And they should be able to raise any concerns ‘in a professional environment which encourages openness, honesty and continuing development and learning’, the GPhC said.

A total of 10,265 community pharmacies in England have signed up to offer Pharmacy First, according to NHS England (NHSE).

And while the service has been hailed as a transformative use of pharmacists’ clinical skills and access to healthcare for the public, concerns have been raised about the capacity of the sector to deliver it.

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has said that operating Pharmacy First ‘is at the sole discretion of the Responsible Pharmacist (RP) on the day’, with the pharmacy owner also required under the Medicines Act to ‘enable the RP to exercise his/her professional judgement’ in assessing and securing the safe and effective running of the pharmacy.

The PDA noted in a statement released last week that a ‘safe and effective service’ can only be delivered if the pharmacist and other team members are trained and competent to provide the service being offered, and if it is sufficiently resourced, ‘without compromising the delivery of essential services and safe care for other patients’.

While it said that one major employer has advised its pharmacists to ‘temporarily suspend’ the Pharmacy First service if they do not feel competent to deliver it, the PDA also reported that other approaches are potentially putting some pharmacists ‘under pressure’ to deliver the service prematurely.