Pharmaceutical bodies have responded to the Health Secretary’s new plan to relieve pressure on GPs, saying that pharmacies want to take on more clinical work but must be properly supported to do so.

The new Our Plan For Patients, which was unveiled today, indicated that pharmacies would take on more clinical services, including delivering contraception without a GP appointment.

This was followed by the announcement of a Pharmacy Contraception Service as part of the arrangements for the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) in 2022/23 and 2023/24.

The plan outlined the launch of a new community pharmacy offer which would offer an expanded range of services, including more simple diagnostic tests. The DHSC also said that it would 'look to go further on enabling pharmacists with more prescribing powers and making more simple diagnostic tests available in community pharmacy.'

Leyla Hannbeck, Chair of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP), said in a Tweet: ‘Pharmacies consistently deliver and want to help reduce pressures elsewhere in the NHS, but we're experiencing significant workforce and financial pressures and can’t be asked to do more for less. Without us, the plan won’t work.’

In a statement released by the AIMP, Ms Hannbeck said: ‘We welcome the Secretary of State’s initiative and we will do what we can to ensure that Our Plan for Patients succeeds. We note, though, that while GPs are to receive extra funding, it is not clear if this extends to pharmacies who will be taking on more work to alleviate pressure elsewhere, including upon GPs.

Pharmacies have consistently delivered, throughout the pandemic and beyond — they are experiencing significant workforce and financial pressures and we would like to see tangible recognition of this as well. The Health Secretary is expecting us to do more, but we’re also subject to additional costs across the board, not only in energy, as the cost of living crisis bites.’

Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, said that making use of ‘all our health professions’ was crucial in tackling the NHS backlog.

‘Pharmacists are the experts in medicines and it’s great to see plans to make the most of pharmacists’ clinical knowledge to improve access to contraception’, she said.

‘However, like the rest of the NHS, pharmacists are under significant pressure and need to be properly resourced to carry out these additional services.’

Ms Govind said that training and supporting the pharmacy workforce would be crucial to the plan’s success. ‘If we are to make the most of the next generation of pharmacist independent prescribers, we must see a more ambitious approach to advancing the clinical role of pharmacists across the NHS.

‘This must all be supported by a comprehensive workforce plan, backed by investment in pharmacy education and training.’

The Company Chemists’ Association said that it supports the policy direction of pharmacies being enabled to do more.

However, it said: 'we are concerned that the current financial pressures, and the chronic shortage of pharmacists available to work in community pharmacy, could limit the sector’s ability to fully support the Secretary of State’s ambitions at this time.'

It added: 'Community pharmacies pride themselves on their ability to provide accessible care, medicines and advice.  We are keen to ease pressures on GP practices this winter and beyond. This new plan must be underpinned by the financial and workforce support that it needs if it is to succeed'.

Today the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee announced newly agreed funding arrangements for years four and five of the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF).

It includes the ‘modest expansion’ of services such as the Community Pharmacist Consultation Scheme (CPCS) and the New Medicine Service (NMS), as well as a new Pharmacy Contraception Service. The PSNC said that this was ‘in line with the sector’s ambitions, but recognising the capacity pressures on pharmacies’.

It also includes efforts to reduce pharmacist workload, including the reduction in scope of the Pharmacy Quality Scheme (PQS) and amendments to allow pharmacy technicians to deliver the Blood Pressure Check Service and Smoking Cessation Service.

Clare Kerr, Head of Healthcare Policy and Strategy at LloydsPharmacy, Member of PSNC’s Negotiating Team and vice chair of PSNC’s Service Development Subcommittee, said that the contraception service, ‘when pharmacies have capacity to offer it’, was ‘very clearly in line with the sector’s ambitions for the future.’

She added: ‘It is very disappointing that we were unable to agree a fully funded pharmacy Walk-in service, but we continue to be clear to the Government and NHS that they must not drive even more patients to pharmacies for self-care consultations without this being properly resourced. This remains a clear focus for us - as demand for advice continues to rise, pharmacies must have the support they need to offer it.’