The incoming Pharmacy First service will ‘further utilise the clinical skills’ of community pharmacy teams and provide ‘urgent access’ to patients who are not registered with a GP for low acuity minor illness treatment, according to the newly published service specification.

After agreement between the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Community Pharmacy England, the service specification for the Pharmacy First service in England has been unveiled.

From 31 January 2024, community pharmacies across England will be able to opt-in to provide a common conditions service – subject to the right IT support being ready.

Operating under PGDs, pharmacists will be able to hold consultations with patients and treat sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women, including by supplying antibiotics where appropriate.

The specification published today outlines the service’s objectives, the clinical skills and knowledge required, payment arrangements and monitoring of the service.

Under its objectives, the 25-page document states that Pharmacy First will aim to ‘further utilise the clinical skills of community pharmacy teams to complete episodes of care for patients and improve access, displacing activity from general practice and urgent care settings’.

It will offer patients who contact emergency healthcare services – such as NHS 111, 999, their own GP practice, primary care out-of-hours service or an emergency care setting – the ‘opportunity to access appropriate urgent care services in a convenient and easily accessible community pharmacy setting’.

In addition, the specification said the new service would help ‘free up clinician capacity’ in those settings for the treatment of those with ‘higher acuity conditions’.

Community pharmacy teams offering the service will also aim to help ‘identify ways that individual patients can self-manage their health more effectively with the support of community pharmacists and to recommend solutions that could prevent inappropriate use of [urgent and emergency care] services in the future’.

Pharmacy First will also aim to ‘provide urgent access to patients who are not registered with a GP for treatment of low acuity minor illnesses, and to ensure equity of access to the emergency supply provision, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay for the cost of the medicine requested’.

The clinical pathways for the seven conditions included in the service have also been published today.

Meanwhile draft documents on the 23 patient group directions and one protocol to be used to authorise supply of medicines at NHS expense are expected later this week, according to Community Pharmacy England (CPE).

CPE also said it will be publishing more guidance on the service and resources for pharmacy owners and their teams over the next few weeks.