The Conservative Party has pledged to expand Pharmacy First to include more conditions, as well as have pharmacies provide more contraceptive options and menopause support, if elected at the next general election.

The expansion would double the number of GP appointments saved by the scheme and would be funded by cutting the number of NHS managers to pre-pandemic levels and controlling the amount spent by government on management consultancy, the Conservatives said.

In December 2023, before Pharmacy First began in England, the government said it had no plans to expand the conditions included under the service.

But this weekend, the Conservative party said it wanted to allow pharmacists to treat more conditions such as acne and chest infections under Pharmacy First, as well as to offer contraceptive patches and injections and provide menopause support, including HRT.

The plans were announced alongside proposals to build or modernise 250 GP surgeries and build 50 new community diagnostic centres.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the investment in community services would make it ‘quicker, easier and more convenient for patients to receive the care they need and help to relieve pressure on hospital services’.

And health secretary Victoria Atkins said that because of the ‘bold action’ taken by the Conservative government, pharmacies, GPs and community diagnostic centres – which she described as ‘the backbone of our NHS’ – were ‘more accessible in more places for more people’.

She added: ‘I know just how important it is for people to have access to health services and treatment close to home - and Pharmacy First and our hundreds of new Community Diagnostic Centres have been a real success story so far. But we must do more.

‘Our clear plan will continue to enable our brilliant pharmacists, GPs and CDCs to do what they do best: serving their local community and boosting capacity in our NHS. We will make the NHS faster, simpler and fairer for all.’

Paul Rees, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) commented: ‘It’s good news that Rishi Sunak sees a greater role for pharmacies.

‘Giving an ever greater role to community pharmacies is a clear, affordable way to cut waiting times for GPs and hospitals and give convenient, expert care to people on their doorsteps. Ideas like this should be taken up by whoever forms the next government.’

But he warned: ‘The fact is that community pharmacies are chronically underfunded and currently even have to subsidise basic NHS medication because they are not even funded properly for the medicines they dispense. Hundreds of pharmacies have closed and are currently being forced out of business at the rate of 10 a week. Those that remain open are only just clinging on.

‘Government needs to fund pharmacies adequately, otherwise the pharmacy network that forms the backbone of the NHS will be irreparably damaged.’

And Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), said: ‘We are delighted that the Conservatives agree with our calls for expanding Pharmacy First. Expanding the scale and scope of the service is a no-brainer that will free up GP capacity and boost patient access to primary care.

‘However, core funding for community pharmacy has been cut by 30% in real-terms since 2015 and since then almost 1,200 pharmacies have closed.

‘The foundations upon which the community pharmacy sector, and the Pharmacy First service, sit urgently need fixing. Driving more and more workload through pharmacies only makes sense if historic underfunding of the sector is rectified.’

New analysis published last week by the Nuffield Trust suggested that NHS spending on community pharmacy and ophthalmic services has been reduced by 19.9% since 2016/17, when real-terms funding is adjusted for need.

The long-term plan for the Pharmacy Contraception service set out that pharmacists would eventually be able to offer Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs) including implants, vaginal rings, injections and patches, but not intrauterine systems (IUS) and intrauterine devices (IUD).