Pharmacy and GP IT system suppliers are ‘reprioritising work’ to ensure that the systems needed for community pharmacies to deliver the common conditions service are ready in time, delegates at this year’s Pharmacy Show have been told.

Ali Sparke, director for pharmacy, optometry, dentistry and the NHS Standard Contract at NHS England, and chief pharmaceutical officer for England David Webb led a session at the conference on Monday outlining the future direction of travel for the community pharmacy sector.

The pair looked towards independent prescribing, long-term conditions management and medicines optimisation as future opportunities that could build on the success of the incoming common conditions service – also known as Pharmacy First.

In order to provide the Pharmacy First service which is expected this coming winter, Mr Sparke said that IT updates were required to help ‘streamline referrals’, using the NHS Booking and Referral Standard (BaRS), and to enable community pharmacies to look at and add relevant information to a patient’s GP record.

‘All those things are critical to the success of a service, and we don't want to move ahead without it,’ Mr Sparke added.

He added that the changes made for the common conditions service would lay foundational ‘building blocks’ for other future services delivered by community pharmacy.

He added: ‘All of the different pharmacy suppliers plus GP system suppliers are now reprioritising their workload to be able to deliver this package of improvements. And that in itself requires a commitment by them and by us that we're going to make this worthwhile [and we’re] going to make this happen.’

‘If we make a success of common conditions, we can build on it’

The community pharmacy sector could be more confident of funding for independent prescribing if it can demonstrate the success of the common conditions service, Mr Sparke also said.

He suggested that the common conditions service was the best opportunity that community pharmacy had had ‘in years’ to develop a stronger foundation for the sector.

And he stressed the importance of ‘making as big a success as we can’ of the service, suggesting that there was wide interest including from the prime minister in seeing how the service would work.

Mr Sparke suggested that the conditions treated by the service currently account for up to 7.7 million GP appointments each year.

‘If we can make the success of this and show that we can deliver [a] new service with additional money at scale [to] really support patients… that will give us real confidence that we can build from this platform and move forward into the future,’ he added.

In addition, the sector could have ‘more certainty about a future income stream to support independent prescribing and potentially support some of the deprescribing and medicines optimisation opportunities that we have’, that it was currently unable to make the most of due to workload and funding, noted Mr Sparke.

While ‘there's a lot of conversations [and] a lot of work needed to get there’, Mr Sparke said he hoped this was where the sector would be able to go.

‘We've got a really strong opportunity now and the best one we've had in years with this common conditions service in order to hopefully develop a stronger foundation,’ he added.

Medicines optimisation and major conditions are future opportunities for pharmacy

Mr Sparke also suggested that independent prescribing could provide an opportunity for community pharmacists to become more involved in medicines optimisation.

‘But I think there's something for me about the way in which we contract for dispensing and services, that obviously doesn't make it as easy as it should to optimise medicines,’ he said in answer to one delegate’s question.

‘For me, that independent prescribing work would give us an opportunity to harness in that regard,’ he said.

He added that the issue was ‘even more important than ever’ given the growth in medicines prescribed year on year.

This followed chief pharmaceutical officer (CPhO) David Webb saying that with an ageing population, ‘the medicines optimisation agenda continues to be of immense strategic importance to the NHS, and we should all remain focused on optimal care of people through the use of medicines and clinical services’.

He later added that pharmacists could play a key role in supporting adherence.

‘The most cost inefficient use of resource is a medicine that nobody takes,’ said Mr Webb.

‘And so, everything that supports adherence to help people derive the benefit is really important.

Mr Webb also pointed to the government’s major conditions strategy and medicines optimisation as the future direction of travel for community pharmacists.

‘In community pharmacy, the ambition is to continue to expand the clinical role of community pharmacy professionals in patient care pathways, providing more services in prevention, urgent care, and long-term condition management,’ he said.

He added that the major conditions strategy ‘sets the direction of travel for the coming years’.

‘The approach, which takes us away from single disease strategies is consistent with a wider shift towards integrated care, and it's a priority given that one in four adults has at least two health conditions,’ he said.

Mr Webb told delegates that he had been ‘hugely encouraged’ by regular visits to pharmacy teams around the country.

‘We need to keep up the momentum and find ways to work ever more closely together on collaborative initiatives,’ he said, adding that ’pharmacy professionals at all levels and in all parts of the NHS have a profound contribution to make’.