Staff shortages, funding cuts and pharmacy closures mean the new Pharmacy First service in England is ‘at massive risk’, the Liberal Democrats party has warned.

The Liberal Democrats have used the launch of Pharmacy First this week to highlight research showing a fall in sector funding of at least 25% in real terms since 2015.

The figure – from a February 2023 Community Pharmacy England (then known as the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee) report – represents ‘hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of cuts’ by the government, the Lib Dems said.

In addition, the party cited data from the NHS Business Services Authority showing that 418 pharmacies closed in 2021/22, against 308 that opened that year.

Also highlighted was an NHS England community pharmacy workforce survey showing there was a 13% decrease in the number of full-time equivalent pharmacists in community pharmacy between 2021 and 2022.

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said Pharmacy First was ‘long overdue’ and has come ‘too late for the many pharmacies that have closed, leaving communities around England without the walk-in high street healthcare they need’.

Ms Cooper added: ‘This plan is needed to take stress off GPs and improve patient access but is at massive risk due to staff shortages, savage cuts and closures.

‘With one hand the Conservatives are asking pharmacists to do more but with the other, they’ve cut millions of pounds of funding and overseen many closures.’

When approached for comment, the Department of Health and Social Care pointed The Pharmacist to its new media factsheet on the Pharmacy First scheme.

The government has invested £645m over two years to support Pharmacy First and other clinical services.