A monthly treatment for recovering heroin addicts – which was launched during the Covid-19 pandemic – is set to continue being used in pharmacies, the Welsh Government has announced.  

The monthly service, which replaced a daily methadone service, was implemented in April 2020 to avoid patients having to make daily trips to over-burdened community pharmacies and to reduce the spread of the virus.

Buprenorphine, the drug being used in this treatment, is administered as an injection once a month at a pharmacy.  

Speaking to Senedd members in the plenary session on Tuesday (25 January), deputy minister for mental health and well-being, Lynne Neagle, announced that part of the draft substance misuse budget for 2022/23 would go towards implementing the new buprenorphine treatment service long term.  

‘I am pleased to update you that, as part of the draft budget, £3 million has been earmarked to continue this treatment alongside a longer-term full evaluation. I am proud to say that Wales is leading the UK in this new treatment,’ she said.  

This year, the Welsh Government increased its investment into substance misuse reform strategies, from £55m to almost £64m.  

Financial impact of the change  

A spokesperson for Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) told The Pharmacist today (1 February) that the change in service has impacted contractors’ fees, which was initially raised as a concern by the body.

‘The move of appropriate patients to injectable buprenorphine has decreased the number of patients previously supported through supervised consumption services in community pharmacies across Wales compared to pre-pandemic levels,’ they said.  

‘Alongside other changes to prescribing in this patient group during the pandemic, this did affect the enhanced service fees for this specific service in 20/21 compared to previous years,’ they added.  

But despite this, the CPW said that pharmacies did not lose out overall due to a ‘ring-fenced budget’.  

They said: ’However, as the clinical service's budget for each Health Board is a ring-fenced budget this did not decrease the services income that pharmacies earnt overall.  

‘The current service income for 21/22 for these services is similar to that in 20/21 so prescribing seems to have now stabilised.’ 

They added however that community pharmacies in Wales are showing significant growth in other enhanced services – such as flu vaccination and the common ailments service. 

In December, The Pharmacist reported more community pharmacies in Wales may be used to deliver Covid boosters to help meet the Government’s new vaccine targets.

Meanwhile, in March, The Pharmacist reported that only 18 of the 713 community pharmacies in Wales had been commissioned to deliver the Covid vaccine, despite calls to boost the sector’s involvement.