Negotiations on the £645m funding for a common conditions service in England, as well as other pharmacy services, have now concluded, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) has said.

Speaking at a conference hosted by Sigma Pharmaceuticals this weekend, Janet Morrison, CPE chief executive, told delegates that an announcement about the new common conditions service could be expected ‘within a couple of weeks’.

And she hoped that the funding could start ‘to flow out’ before the launch of the Pharmacy First service.

‘You will know that we’ve been in negotiations since the plans were announced,’ Ms Morrison told delegates at the conference in Heathrow, London on Sunday.

'And those negotiations have now concluded. So, we’ve come to an agreement, and it will be announced very shortly.’

She added that the negotiations on the £645m had been ‘more complex than usual’, due to its ‘high priority’, the ‘range of government stakeholders’ involved and the programme needing ‘high level’ approval from the Treasury and Number 10.

She said that the clinical pathways for each of the seven conditions covered by the service – sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bites, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women – had been approved by the chief medical officer (CMO).

Meanwhile, NHS England had led digital developments with IT providers from both community pharmacy and GPs, noted Ms Morrison.

‘That’s the complex and critical part of delivering this service,’ she added.

A presentation by the NHS Business Services Authority at the recent Pharmacy Show in Birmingham suggested that IT developments to support the new common conditions service were expected to be launched in January 2024.

Ms Morrison added that for CPE, it had been ‘critical to get the funding on the right terms’, to provide pharmacy owners with ‘upfront capacity to respond to patient demands’, as well as ‘a fair structure of payments that don’t just work now, but in the future’.

And it had been important to understand how the new money would relate to the current contract, she added.

There will be still some ‘really significant work to do’ around how Pharmacy First is marketed to the public, as well as how activity and demand could be monitored, Ms Morrison said.

In its delivery plan for recovering access to primary care, published in May, NHS England said that it would launch the common conditions service ‘so that by end of 2023 community pharmacies can supply prescription-only medicines for seven common conditions’.

Ms Morrison also told Sigma conference delegates that CPE would be starting negotiations on the next community pharmacy contract ‘straight away’.

The next contract would be negotiated for one year, 2024-25, given that the government’s spending review ‘has another year to run’.

‘Basically, the dead hand of treasury plans is still in place for another year,’ Ms Morrison said.

She added that CPE would be asking for an uplift to the baseline contract, which she said ‘simply isn’t enough to even do what we’re currently doing’.

In addition, CPE would be requesting a review of fees, said Ms Morrison, who suggested the government seemed ‘to set them and never have any automatic review process’.

An uplift to the allowed margin and new funding for increased volumes of existing services ‘that are breaking the bank in terms of over delivery at the moment’ would also be among CPE’s asks, she said.

CPE is also asking community pharmacy owners for their views on the coming winter and beyond, to inform its negotiations and future strategy.

Ms Morrison warned that the next negotiations were likely to be ‘challenging’ and could be interrupted by a general election.

‘Therefore, we need to think strategically about making sure that we're influencing the shape of future government, whichever government it might be,’ Ms Morrison said.

And she reiterated that the recently published King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust vision for community pharmacy would shape the negotiator’s strategy for the sector, including building on the ‘essential core role’ of dispensing to prevent ill health and support wellbeing.

In a statement published on its website today, CPE added that 'the substantive discussions on the recovery plan' were finished, but 'detailed discussions about implementation are ongoing' and it was awaiting final clearance from government and the NHS'.

'We hope that we will be in a position to make an announcement in the next few weeks and that negotiations on the CPCF from April 2024 will commence soon after that,' CPE added.

Also at the Sigma UK community pharmacy conference on Sunday, the Lord Popat of Harrow shared a message of encouragement from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to delegates.

In a letter shared at the conference, Mr Sunak said that the government ‘very much appreciates the hard work’ of pharmacy teams and wants ‘to enable them to do more to support the NHS’.

He added: ‘Community pharmacies play such an important role in maintaining and looking after local communities and I want to extend my personal gratitude to everyone who provides these services daily. Your incredible work does not go unnoticed.’

And he said that the upcoming Pharmacy First service ‘will be an important addition to the work pharmacies already do, proving how valuable and trusted you are within your communities.’

‘I wish you all a successful conference and hope that all those attending feel recognised for the work they do to look after our health,’ the letter from the Prime Minister concluded.