The new £645m investment in community pharmacy will be split between funding the existing NHS Pharmacy Contraception and Hypertension Case-Finding services, a new national Pharmacy First scheme and investment in IT services to give pharmacies greater access to patient notes.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said that it was not yet known how the £645m funding, which was unveiled in a new NHS primary care plan, would be allocated between the services, and that this would be subject to further discussions.

Last year, PSNC chief executive Janet Morrison told The Pharmacist that a Pharmacy First service would need an annual £350-£400m funding package.

But the £645m will be split over two years, which would not cover the amount PSNC estimated would be needed to fund Pharmacy First each year alone, even without the additional investment sector leaders say is needed in existing services and to cover increased operational costs.

Funding for existing services ‘critical’

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), described the announcement as ‘a real vote of confidence for the future profession and the community pharmacy sector’, and ‘a crucial first step in realising the true potential’ of the sector.

He added that the funding for the existing contraception and hypertension services was ‘critical to enable delivery’.

‘As soon as this funding can be released patients will be able to see an immediate benefit,’ Mr Harrison added.

Expansion of blood pressure checks

The NHS hypertension case-finding service was introduced in October 2021, and since then over 590,000 blood pressure checks have been carried out by community pharmacies under the scheme, according to figures from the NHS Business Services Authority.

The CCA estimates that through the scheme, community pharmacies have prevented 600 future heart attacks and strokes in the first year of the service.

And with adequate investment, community pharmacy could prevent up to 5,800 heart attacks and 8,800 strokes by 2026 and become a ‘one-stop-shop’ for initial cardiovascular care where appropriate, freeing up much-needed capacity in GP access, the CCA suggested last month.

The NHS primary care plan said the service currently delivers up to 120,000 checks per month, but the funding would allow it to expand to a further 2.5 million blood pressure checks carried out by community pharmacy in a year, subject to consultation.

It added that the expansion of the hypertension case-finding and contraception services would mean that 'more patients can be supported outside a general practice setting'.

Will pharmacies begin offering contraception service?

Tier one of the pharmacy contraception service launched last month, giving pharmacists the ability to manage ongoing oral contraception, and over time will be expanded to allow pharmacists to initiate oral contraception and eventually manage and initiate long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), excluding intrauterine systems (IUS) and intrauterine devices (IUD), according to the service specification.

But last month, The Pharmacist revealed that just 4% of community pharmacies had signed up for the NHS Pharmacy Contraception service within its first two days. This came amid complaints that no new money had been provided to enable already overstretched pharmacies to provide the service, and that any money claimed for delivery of the service in any part of the sector would be ‘clawed back’ from other funding sources.

PSNC confirmed today that the newly announced £645m was new money additional to the existing global sum, but said that until detailed negotiations on the funding had concluded, ‘we won’t fully know what this means for the service and its affordability’.

It added that its position on whether pharmacies should offer the contraception service – that due to stretched capacity within the sector more money would be needed to safely resource additional work – was ‘unchanged’. It said that it would be reviewing the position ‘in due course’.

Some funding to be allocated to IT improvements

NHS England’s (NHSE) Delivery plan for recovering access to primary care, published this morning, contained more detail about where the funding would be allocated.

It said that ‘as part of the new funding and to ensure the highest standard of care for patients’, NHSE would be investing ‘to significantly improve the digital infrastructure between general practice and community pharmacy’.

It would work with community pharmacy suppliers and general practice IT suppliers ‘to develop and deliver interoperable digital solutions’ – including streamlined referral processes, giving community pharmacy additional access to relevant clinical information from GP records, and allowing community pharmacy to update GP records – for instance, following supply of oral contraception or a blood pressure consultation in community pharmacy.