Almost a third of Pharmacy First consultations carried out by members of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) within the first month of the service were provided in the 20% most deprived communities, new data has suggested.

Data from the CCA has this week revealed that ‘just over 3,000’ member pharmacies delivered 48,195 Pharmacy First consultations between 31 January and 3 March.

The number of consultations carried out were equivalent to 1,500 a day, with nearly a third conducted ‘out of hours’ – outside the typical working day of 9am to 6pm – and during weekends.

Analysis from the CCA suggested there were ‘two and a half times’ more Pharmacy First consultations provided in the 20% most deprived communities.

‘Despite being available nationally, significantly more Pharmacy First consultations were provided in areas of higher deprivation,’ it said in its latest report.

‘Nearly a third of all Pharmacy First consultations were provided in the 20% most deprived communities, compared to 12% in the least deprived.

‘This means, there were two and a half times more consultations in the 20% most deprived communities, when compared to the least deprived.’

According to the CCA, the figures show that the Pharmacy First service – which launched on 31 January 2023 – has the potential to meet the government target of freeing up 10 million GP appointments by next winter.

In fact, the association’s modelling found that a ‘fully funded and ambitious’ Pharmacy First service in England could free up more than 30 million GP appointments a year.

With funding for Pharmacy First currently assured until March 2024, the CCA is urging policy makers to back the service beyond 2025 and also expand its remit beyond seven conditions.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA, lauded the number of consultations delivered by the association’s members as ‘an incredible achievement’.

He said: ‘Pharmacies can do a whole lot more to stop the 8am GP scramble that many patients continue to experience, but this will only be possible if policymakers fund Pharmacy First beyond 2025 and address historic underfunding of other core pharmacy services.

‘Unless the underlying chronic underfunding of pharmacy is addressed, local pharmacies will continue to close, making it harder for patients to obtain the medicines they need.’

In total, 48,195 consultations were recorded by CCA members between 31 January and 3 March.

Mr Harrison added: ‘Nearly a third of all Pharmacy First consultations delivered by our members have been in the 20% of communities with the highest levels of deprivation.

‘This proves our long-held belief that NHS services commissioned nationally through the pharmacy network immediately benefit those who need access to care the most.’

The breakdown of consultations for the seven common conditions were as follows:

  • Acute otitis media: 7,548 (15.66%)
  • Acute sore throat: 15,087 (31.30%)
  • Impetigo: 2,888 (5.99%)
  • Infected insect bites: 1,309 (2.72%)
  • Shingles: 1,748 (3.63%)
  • Sinusitis: 6,562 (13.62%)
  • Uncomplicated UTI: 13,053 (27.08%)

Despite the large volume of consultations carried out by CCA members, the Pharmacy First service has been hampered by ‘significant problems’ with IT systems.

The sector’s negotiator responded last week to reports of ‘discrepancies’ around the number of Pharmacy First consultations recorded by IT systems, and insisted that ‘pharmacies must not end up being out of pocket’ as a result.

It was announced towards the end of last week that the NHS Business Services Authority had extended the deadline for pharmacy contractors to submit their reimbursement claims for Pharmacy First services delivered in February, amid the ongoing IT issues.

Earlier this month, pharmacy teams reported being unable to access PharmOutcomes, a system used to manage Pharmacy First referrals, and some complained that multi-factor authentication was difficult to set up and little support was available.