Almost nine in 10 employed and locum pharmacists are concerned over the potential damage Pharmacy First may have on an ‘already fragile’ workforce in England, a survey by the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has revealed.

‘Many’ among the more than 3,500 staff surveyed also said they were worried the ‘hurried’ upcoming service launch could put them at a greater risk of abuse and violence from patients.

The survey results, published on Friday, suggested just 4% were ‘confident’ the sector would be able to deliver the Pharmacy First service, in addition to existing workload, on 31 January.

The PDA’s survey came in response to concerns that the discussions between NHS England (NHSE) and Community Pharmacy England (CPE) that agreed the terms of the service had not taken into account ‘the views of those pharmacists at the coal face’.

Between Friday 5 and Sunday 14 of January, the PDA gathered views from over 3,500 employed and locum pharmacists working in England’s community pharmacies, which the association believes makes the survey ‘the most substantive and recent report of frontline pharmacist experience on the topic’.

And it has presented its findings directly to the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer (CPhO) for NHSE and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) senior officials in a meeting on 17 January.

The majority of respondents (68%) supported the idea of a Pharmacy First service in England, saying that if properly supported, the service could improve patient care (84%) and community pharmacists’ professional fulfilment (77%).

But 87% said they were concerned that if the Pharmacy First service was not introduced or resourced properly, it could damage the ‘already fragile workforce situation’.

Nearly half (49%) of respondents said that they do not have sufficient staff to safely provide existing services, even without Pharmacy First.

And 70% said that when Pharmacy First is introduced, there will not be any additional staff in their pharmacy to support the service.

Over three quarters of pharmacists were concerned that patient expectations would not be met (76%) and that patients might become aggressive due to unrealistic expectations (78%).

Some 62% had concerns about patient safety connected to the launch of the service, with 66% stating fears that their employer may push them to practice new services before they were confident and competent to do so.

At the time of completing the survey, just 1% of respondents had completed all of the required Pharmacy First training, while 63% had done none of it.

And 53% said that no training had taken place for the rest of the pharmacy team, while just 3% said that enough support staff training had taken place.

To confidently launch the service, 84% thought that an increase in trained and competent support staff was needed, while 74% suggested that a second pharmacist would be needed.

And 77% of respondents called for a large-scale public awareness campaign about the service to be delayed until the sector is able to deliver at scale.

NHSE has said that it is planning a public-facing campaign to help raise patient awareness of Pharmacy First, which The Pharmacist understands will consist of national media coverage and a web page directing patients to pharmacies that are providing the service.

The Pharmacist approached NHSE, DHSC and CPE for comment on the concerns raised about Pharmacy First.

The DHSC responded: 'More than 93% of pharmacies [in England] have signed up to deliver the seven common conditions as part of Pharmacy First and we have met with The Pharmacists Defence Association to discuss their concerns and highlight the support available.

'We are providing up to £645 million in additional funding to support Pharmacy First  and help make sure community pharmacies have what they need once the service is launched.'

An NHS spokesperson said: 'Pharmacy First has been welcomed by pharmacists up and down the country.'

They added: 'The roll-out of this service from next month remains on track and these plans, together with expansion of oral contraception and blood pressure services, could free up 10 million appointments in general practice a year.'

And CPE said that it welcomed the feedback, adding that its committee did take into account the impact of new services on the whole pharmacy team.

Director of NHS services at CPE Alastair Buxton said: 'We are always keen to hear feedback on the CPCF [Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework] from any stakeholders, including community pharmacy team members, for example through our annual Pharmacy Pressures Survey.

'Our Committee members – all of them pharmacists, including many working day to day in their own pharmacies - do consider the impact on the whole pharmacy team when making decisions on behalf of the community pharmacy sector on important topics such as the introduction of new services.

'Clearly, any new developments need to be possible for pharmacy teams to implement, if they are to be of benefit to patients.'