Learning needs for community pharmacy teams ahead of the launch of new clinical services this winter are likely to ‘vary quite a lot’ and not all pharmacies will be ready for the proposed start dates, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) has suggested.

The negotiator’s director of NHS services, Alastair Buxton, has set out some steps pharmacy owners in England need to take to prepare for the incoming Pharmacy First scheme and expanded contraception and blood pressure checks services that were announced this week.

Specifically, he has urged contractors to prioritise training their teams for the new common conditions service, to ensure they do not miss out on set up fees.

When are new services being introduced?

Changes will be made to enable pharmacists in England to initiate oral contraception in two weeks time, alongside a re-launch of the community pharmacy blood pressure checks service that enables a greater use of skills mix – both beginning on 1 December.

And in less than three months time, from 31 January, the long-awaited Pharmacy First common conditions service will launch in England, allowing pharmacists to supply medicines where appropriate for seven common conditions.

Pharmacists will be able to notify NHS England whenever they are ready to start offering the next stage of the pharmacy contraception service, and can start utilising appropriately trained non-registered team members to deliver the hypertension service any time from 1 December.

But contractors must register to provide Pharmacy First ahead of the 31 January launch in order to be eligible for the £2,000 set up fee.

What do community pharmacy owners need to do now?

Mr Buxton suggested that pharmacy owners would want to prioritise getting ready to deliver the Pharmacy First service, given the need to register or miss out on the £2,000 fee.

After reading through the service specifications and the patient group directions (PGDs) for the seven clinical pathways that are due to be published soon, Mr Buxton suggested that each pharmacist would need to do an individual assessment of their own learning needs.

And he noted that the self-assessment tool from the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education (CPPE) relating to the Community Pharmacy Consultation Scheme (CPCS) was being updated to relate to Pharmacy First.

He recognised that learning needs were likely to ‘vary quite a lot’, ‘depending on how up to date people are’ and whether they had done any additional training in the past such as consultation and examinations skills training.

In addition, for some of the clinical pathways, Mr Buxton said that pharmacists would need particular equipment, such as an otoscope, and training in using it, if they had not undertaken this in the past.

Mr Buxton noted that the hypertension service, which is set to re-launch on 1 December, was ‘not changing significantly’, except for the addition of skill mix, which will allow any pharmacy team member to deliver the service as long as they are appropriately trained.

He suggested that the ability to utilise skill mix will ‘be a real boon for pharmacy owners’ that will ‘help us take the service to the next level’.

Many pharmacy team members have already been trained in anticipation of this update, Mr Buxton noted, but he said that it would ultimately be for pharmacy owners to decide at what point they would apply the skill mix to their delivery of the service.

Regarding the Pharmacy Contraception Service, Mr Buxton said that there would be some ‘top-up’ training available to those pharmacists currently providing tier one of the service on a ‘self-assessment basis’, to cover the additional element of initiating oral contraception.

And he said that those pharmacies would ‘have a period into the new year’ before they would need to confirm that they were now providing both initiation and repeat supplies.

Pharmacies not already providing the contraception service would need to provide the full service from the point that they signed up, added Mr Buxton.

But he said it was unlikely that many pharmacies would be ready to begin that service from the beginning of next month.

‘I don't envisage many pharmacies, unless they've trained their staff in advance, are going to be ready to be going live for that service on the first of December because they're going to have other things to worry about. So, I think that's going be pushed into the new year,’ he told press this week.

What else is happening to get the services ready?

CPE has stressed that updates to supporting IT infrastructure are essential to the roll-out of the services.

Mr Buxton said that pharmacies would be given access to patient records using a system called GP Connect that would enable them to view relevant information without needing to open new records.

He told press that this was unlikely to be ready by December, but that he expected it to be in place by the end of January.

An update to allow community pharmacies to write into the GP patient record for the first time was also being developed, noted Mr Buxton, building on the existing functionality in place for sending information about flu vaccinations and medicines under CPCS to GPs.

Initially, this information will need to be added to the patient record by practice teams, but eventually community pharmacies will be able to do it directly, he said.

And he stressed that work would need to be done by both community pharmacy and GP IT suppliers and teams to put processes in place.