The highly anticipated Pharmacy First common conditions service in England is set to launch at the end of January, it has been announced.

The news comes as part of a series of announcements confirmed by NHS England (NHSE) and Community Pharmacy England (CPE) today, which also included updates on contraception and hypertension services.

And CPE also said it had negotiated a write-off of funding over-delivery worth £112m.

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.

Pharmacies that register for the service by a still-to-be-confirmed deadline ahead of the 31 January launch will receive an upfront payment of £2,000 per pharmacy.

And subject to delivering a minimum number of consultations each month – increasing by staggered amounts throughout the year from one in February to 30 from October – participating pharmacies will receive a monthly fixed payment of £1,000.

In addition to this, they will receive a payment of £15 per consultation, and payment caps will be implemented in the second half of 2024/25.

All pharmacies that register for this advanced service will be required to operate all seven PGDs, with the exception of distance selling pharmacies which will provide six services but not the clinical pathway for acute otitis media (earache).

Once Pharmacy First has been launched, it will be publicised to patients through a government campaign, and medicines will be provided to patients via the normal PGD route of utilising prescription fees and exemptions.

It is hoped that enabling patients to access care for these conditions directly through community pharmacy will free up to 10 million GP appointments a year by next winter, as well as giving people more choice about where they can be treated.

Meanwhile, community pharmacies can also begin initiating oral contraception under the next stage of the Pharmacy Contraception Service from the beginning of next month, again subject to supporting IT infrastructure being in place, NHSE has confirmed.

And funding the pharmacy hypertension service which will be re-launched on 1 December. NHSE said this would allow pharmacists to ‘ramp up’ the number of blood pressure checks they would be able to provide to at-risk patients.

Janet Morrison, CPE chief executive, said that the CPE committee was unanimous in its decision to accept the deal, telling press that the negotiator was pleasantly surprised to achieve some aspects of the agreement, such as the £112m write-off.

She described the announcement as a ‘huge positive for the sector’ amid ‘incredibly challenging’ circumstances.

In addition to allowing new money to flow into pharmacies, the services announced today create ‘the building blocks for a clinical future maximising the use of the skills and professional competence of pharmacists and their teams’, Ms Morrison said.

‘Though it will not be an easy agreement to deliver on, it is the most significant investment into community pharmacy in many years and it was no surprise that the Community Pharmacy England Committee were united in their unanimous decision to accept the final deal,’ she added.

‘While it is frustrating that the fees for the Blood Pressure Check Service and the new Pharmacy Contraception Service will not change, £75 million per year additional funding has been made available to support the expansion of these services. This means many more consultations are achievable without putting pressure on the core contractual sum, and we hope pharmacies will be able to offer even more valued support to patients,’ Ms Morrison said.

And the negotiator added that it would be monitoring patient uptake and funding for the sector as the services are rolled out.

Ms Morrison also said that while pharmacy teams ‘will remain very busy throughout this winter’, they will ‘be working hard to build these new services into their daily workload’.

Meanwhile, Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) called the new and expanded services ‘a step in the right direction for patient care’, highlighting the sector’s ‘track record of delivering for patients.’

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), said the launch of Pharmacy First was ‘a huge vote of confidence in the sector’, marking ‘a first and crucial step in transforming the role of pharmacy to provide ever more care for patients’.

And Nick Kaye, chair of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), commented that through his experience delivering a locally commissioned walk-in common ailments service in community pharmacies in Cornwall, he had ‘seen first-hand how improving access to advice and treatment works for GPs, pharmacists and above all patients’.

‘Today’s deal means that people across the whole country will soon be able to benefit from pharmacists’ prompt and expert support,’ he added. ‘NHS England have put their faith in us, having seen community pharmacy successfully deliver other clinical services at scale.’

And David Webb, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, said: ‘Pharmacy First demonstrates the significant and exceptional contribution of community pharmacy teams to the NHS.

‘This further expansion of clinical services delivered by pharmacy teams in local collaboration will enable thousands of people to access the help and care they need quickly and conveniently.’

Tase Oputu, England board chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), also welcomed the launch of the common conditions service from February, describing it as ‘the first step towards a vision of wider prescribing services in pharmacy, using the clinical skills of pharmacists’.

In addition, new health secretary, Victoria Atkins, commented that it was a ‘pleasure’ to start her time as secretary of state with ‘such a positive example of the government, NHS and pharmacy sector working together to reach an agreement to improve services and save lives’.

She added: ‘For the public these changes will mean more options for women when making a choice about their preferred contraception, reduce the risks of people suffering heart attacks and strokes and make it easier to access medicines for common conditions.

‘And for healthcare professionals this will free up GP appointments and make better use of the skills and expertise within community pharmacies.’

NHSE also said today that the government was currently in the process of reviewing responses to its consultation on whether pharmacy technicians should be allowed to supply and administer medicines under patient group directions (PGDs).

This is a breaking news story, more details to follow…