Contractors will have additional time to complete the requirements of the Pharmacy Quality Scheme (PQS) in light of their higher workload this winter, PSNC has announced.

This comes as part of a new agreement, in which PSNC, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have agreed on several measures to help ease the immediate pressures on community pharmacies.

Last week, PSNC said it had received reports from contractors — both those who are involved in the Covid vaccination programme and those who are not — of ‘mounting pressures’, ‘workforce problems’ along with ‘capacity issues’, and a ‘rise in staffing costs’ this winter.

The PQS extension will mean that contractors will still need to make the PQS declaration before 25 February, but like last year, this will be a claim for work to be undertaken and evidenced by 30 June 2022.

In the update, published today (15 December), PSNC set out a range of measures to help ‘ease immediate pressures on community pharmacies’:

● Contractors will not be required to complete the Community Pharmacy Patient Questionnaire for 2021/2022;

● The requirement for pharmacy teams to complete a national audit (intended to be on valproate) in 2021/22 will be waived; and

● The requirement for pharmacy teams to complete a contractor-chosen clinical audit in 2021/22 will be waived.

PSNC said that ‘further details’ on the measures will be published ‘shortly’ and that the situation will be kept ‘under ongoing review’.

‘These measures are not all that PSNC requested from NHSE&I and DHSC, but they are the majority, and we are pleased that NHSE&I and DHSC have committed to keeping the situation under review,’ PSNC added.

Andrew Lane, chair of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) welcomed the changes, however, said the new measures were ‘very modest’ when compared to the ‘tremendous scale of the workload challenge posed by the Omicron wave’, 

‘Much more can be done to free up pharmacy teams for patient care and increase primary care capacity.

‘NHS England should urgently consider a nationwide emergency supply scheme to reduce the time pharmacies spend chasing up prescriptions. This is already working in Cornwall as a local service and can be switched on elsewhere with minimal fuss.’

He also called for the requirement for pharmacies to check codes when people ask for lateral flow tests to be ‘suspended in light of the prevailing circumstances’.

‘All community pharmacies face a very challenging few months ahead, despite today’s announcement,’ he said.

In October, The Pharmacist reported that contractors were calling for PSNC to put pressure on NHSE to extend the PQS completion time frame in light of the additional pressure the sector is facing this year.

PQS for this year (2021/22) had already been adjusted to take into account additional pressures this winter.

PSNC told The Pharmacist that they were unlikely to approach NHSE for additional time for contractors this winter.

It comes after over 11,100 pharmacies across England completed part one of the PQS this year, 640 more than the number that completed it the previous year.

In November 2020, PSNC asked that contractors be given more time to complete the second part of the PQS.

A version of the scheme — the Community Pharmacy Quality Payments Scheme (QPS) — was initially introduced in December 2016.

It was created to reward community pharmacies for delivering quality criteria in all three of the quality dimensions: clinical effectiveness, patient safety and patient experience.

NHS England and NHS Improvement then developed the PQS for 2019/20 and 2020/21.