Pharmacy First will launch on 31 January, with the required IT updates in place, NHS England (NHSE) confirmed today.

And the process of integrating with general practice records will be further rolled out during February 2024.

More than 10,000 pharmacies have registered to deliver Pharmacy First to date, NHSE said in a letter to community pharmacies and other healthcare providers today.

And it confirmed that all four of the approved Pharmacy First IT suppliers (Cegedim, EMIS (PharmOutcomes), Positive Solutions and Sonar) were are upgrading their systems ‘ready for Wednesday 31 January 2024’.

The updates will mean that those using these systems will automatically have 'Pharmacy First screens' to support the new clinical pathways, as well as the ability to send data for payments and monitoring to the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA).

The suppliers will make more information available directly to their pharmacy customers, NHSE said.

Community Pharmacy England (CPE) explained that the changes made by 31 January will allow community pharmacies to 'make the necessary clinical records for the consultations provided as part of the service and to send the necessary data for payment and monitoring purposes to the NHSBSA via an application programming interface (API)'.

'The systems will also send post-event messages to the patient’s general practice, via NHSmail, as is currently the case for the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS),' CPE added in an update posted today.

But the ‘one click’ process that is expected to enable community pharmacies to share information in a structured way with general practice patient will not be ready when the service launches.

NHSE previously said that community pharmacy IT systems will automatically send details of patient consultations to general practice clinical IT systems from February 2024.

It said today that it has ‘redesigned the way that pharmacy consultation outcomes can be captured in the patient record’, so that ‘practice staff can review consultation information and add the data to the patient record with one click of a button’.

NHSE added in today’s letter that this will roll out ‘throughout February 2024’, and until it is in place, practices will continue to receive information through NHSMail in line with existing processes.

And CPE said today that in addition to the access that pharmacies already have to patient records via the National Care Record Service (formerly known as the Summary Care Record),  'within a few weeks of launch, it is expected that enhanced access to GP records will be provided via GP Connect Access Record functionality being added to pharmacy clinical services IT systems'.

When the new national Pharmacy First service is launched in England, it will supersede the existing CPCS.

But the CPCS consultation record will be available until Tuesday 30 April 2024 to allow community pharmacies to submit claims for consultations delivered up to and including Tuesday 30 January 2024.

'A significant and historic day for community pharmacy'

CPE chief executive Janet Morrison described today's confirmation of the 31 January start date for the service as 'good news'.

'There is a critical need to get this additional funding flowing,' she said.

She acknowledged that 'implementation has been and will continue to be a challenge, and there will still be more work to do ahead of next week and as the service is implemented'.

And she said that 31 January would be 'a significant and historic day for community pharmacy'.

'Pharmacy First represents the first significant investment in the sector for many years and will put us on a stronger footing for the future,' she said.

Ms Morrison welcomed the efforts to get IT systems in place for the launch, as well as the 'ongoing improvements to systems that will roll out through February'.

NHSE had previously suggested that it was not confident IT solutions would be in place for the planned 31 January launch, with contingency plans being worked up in case they were not ready in time.

And Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), expressed concerns to The Pharmacist that digital infrastructure had been delayed in the past.

But Ms Morrison said that the negotiator was clear 'that the NHS cannot launch new services without appropriate IT being in place'.

She also said that CPE did not expect 'a large number of people to be walking in for Pharmacy First consultations on day one of the service – as behaviour change takes time and effort to bring about'.

And Gareth Jones, director of corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said that while 'implementing any change to health care on this scale will be challenging', the NPA was confident that its members would 'step up to the plate and provide an excellent Pharmacy First service'.

Also in today’s letter, NHSE said that it expects Pharmacy First activity ‘to increase gradually following the launch’, and revealed that a marketing campaign to raise awareness of the service among the public would commence in mid-February.