Ministers are ‘sold’ on the idea of a Pharmacy First scheme in England, but PSNC will not agree to a plan without a dedicated funding package, PSNC CEO Janet Morrison has said.

In an interview with The Pharmacist, Ms Morrison said that PSNC had presented a fully costed Pharmacy First to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) during negations for the previous Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF), but that DHSC ‘didn't have the scope’ to offer the £350-£400m needed due to parameters set by the Treasury.

On the possibility of DHSC announcing the scheme without agreeing to additional funding, she said she had told DHSC: ‘There will be a riot on your hands, you will go beyond the pale’. However, she stressed that PSNC was still working towards securing funding for the scheme.

Ms Morrison also said she was ‘not too optimistic’ that community pharmacy would see any of the £3.3bn for the NHS per year for the next two years announced last week, but instead thought that it would be absorbed by NHS pay rises.

Ms Morrison said that the Pharmacy First scheme would cost the Government around £350-£400m, which would provide for a three-tier system.

This would include offering advice or treatments for simple ailments like a sore throat, which wouldn’t be recorded by the pharmacy under the scheme; more complex consultations to identify issues such as ear nose and throat problems and skin conditions; and the pharmacy being able to offer treatment under a PGD or under an independent prescriber’s scope of practice.

However, she said that PSNC had to be clear that ministers could not announce the Pharmacy First scheme without additional funding ‘because it will fall over’. She explained: ‘There was a risk that ministers might have announced it anyway, so we had to be really firm about that.’

Ms Morrison stressed that the scheme was ‘still an option’ and vowed to ‘keep pushing away and honestly, I think over the summer, we came pretty close’.

She said that ministers are ‘sold on’ the scheme but ‘the question is the funding for it’, adding that she couldn’t say when any additional funding package would be expected.

Ms Morrison continued: ‘I think solutions are always useful if they're compartmentalised as a package that can be delivered, that's not massively expensive in government terms of spending potential. So, I don't know, but there's no guarantees. We just have to keep pushing.’

She said that PSNC was engaging a broader range of stakeholders, including MPs across parliament, shadow health secretary Will Streeting, and influential think tanks, with the aim of making the case for community pharmacy as a healthcare solution and ultimately influencing the Treasury.

However, she added that any proposal would be competing with other priorities, such as health and social care efforts to speed up hospital discharge, free up beds and reduce pressure on ambulances. ‘These are really pressing issues’, she said. ‘Who's to say that ours will be the most important out of those, but we still have to plug away and hope that we can continue to get more money.’

‘Having said that, ministers always want solutions. And they also always want something that they can announce they're coming up towards the elections in 2024. We know they want Pharmacy First. They just have to pay for it. Governments can find money sometimes’, she said.

She also said that she wanted to set out the impact on patients more, as well as casting a longer-term vision for the solutions that community pharmacy could provide.

Last week, health and social care secretary Steve Barclay announced that he was ‘looking at’ progressing plans for Pharmacy First in England.

Earlier this month, PSNC launched an online survey to hear from contractors, Local Pharmacy Committees and others including patients about their views on the future of community pharmacy.

When asked whether it would make more funding available for Pharmacy First and whether any of the funding announced for the NHS would be allocated to community pharmacies, DHSC told The Pharmacist: ‘Community pharmacies play a crucial role in supporting patients across the country and we support them with £2.6bn a year.

‘In September, we announced a further £100 million investment in the sector which will enable pharmacies to manage routine oral contraception without a GP prescription, take minor illness and urgent medicine supply referrals from A&E and provide extra support for patients newly prescribed anti-depressants.’

‘We continue to explore what more pharmacy can do to support patients.’