NHS England (NHSE) has launched its awaited Pharmacy First campaign to encourage patients to visit their local community pharmacy for the seven conditions covered under the service.

The multimedia campaign features ‘temporarily rebranded’ pharmacy signs, bearing names such as ‘It Burns When I Pee Pharmacy’, ‘He’s Got An Itchy Rash Pharmacy’, ‘I’m So Bunged Up Pharmacy’, ‘This Earache Is Getting Worse Pharmacy’ and ‘Get Well Sooner Pharmacy’.

Meanwhile, South West London community pharmacist Reena Barai is featured on a social media video outlining the service that began in England on 31 January 2024.

Adverts will also be running across on demand TV services, radio, bus stops and billboards from today.

Dr Claire Fuller, NHSE medical director for primary care, said the ‘important campaign’ would ‘help people understand the new level of support that pharmacies can offer, with skilled and highly-qualified health professionals delivering even more excellent support in local communities’.

Pharmacy minister Dame Andrea Leadsom commented that ‘with four in five people living just a twenty-minute walk from their local pharmacy’, Pharmacy First would be ‘a convenient option for many’.

‘This campaign will help ensure people know they can access care for these conditions at their pharmacy,’ she said.

She added: ‘I’m grateful to all our hard-working pharmacists for helping to drive this service forward, which will help reduce pressures on GPs and cut waiting lists as part of the government’s long-term plan for our NHS.’

A recent Ipsos Mori study showed that the public identify pharmacies as the organisation they would be most likely to go to if they needed information or advice about a minor health condition (58%), but one in five (20%) say they do not normally contact or visit a community pharmacy.

A separate poll conducted in January by pharmacy platform Charac in partnership with YouGov found that that just under half (44%) of patients were unaware of the service before it launched, while just 23% of patients are currently using pharmacies as their initial port of call for minor conditions.

However, once informed of the now-live Pharmacy First service, the number of patients who would go to pharmacists rather than general practices for certain conditions rose to 56%.

And a survey of 937 Superdrug Health and Beauty card members around the launch of Pharmacy First found that 59% of respondents would be more likely to use the service if they better understood how ‘qualified’ teams were to support with minor conditions.

The Company Chemists’ Association, representing large multiples, has claimed that 81% of its member pharmacies in England provided at least one Pharmacy First consultation in the first week of the service.

It added that 84% of patients seen through Pharmacy First consultations delivered by CCA members in the first week of the service were walk-in self-referrals, while 16% were referred from NHS111 and GP surgeries.

The CCA also said that sore throats represented nearly a third (30%) of all Pharmacy First consultations, followed by uncomplicated UTIs (26%) and earache / acute otitis media (17%).

The figures derive from a blackbox exercise of CCA member PharmOutcomes data, but the CCA could not confirm the total number of pharmacies included in the survey.