EXCLUSIVE The hurried preparations for Pharmacy First within an already overstretched sector will come at a ‘human cost’ to pharmacy teams, National Pharmacy Association (NPA) chief executive Paul Rees has warned.

And he said that community pharmacies need a guarantee that the service is ‘here to stay’, given the investment that the sector has been asked to make in it.

In an interview with The Pharmacist last week, Mr Rees said ‘the vast majority of pharmacies are delivering Pharmacy First and getting really positive feedback from patients’.

But he said that politicians and the NHS needed to consider ‘the human impact’ of delivering the service.

‘The human side is that this is being delivered on top of an already distressed system. The human side is that people had to prepare for this in a very short period of time, learning new protocols and new skills at night, learning them on a Sunday,’ Mr Rees said.

‘So, it’s incredibly tough, and there will be a human cost.’

He added: ‘Pharmacy time and time again steps up to the mark, like it did during the Covid pandemic. And it will do so again. But it will be an almighty struggle. And there is going to be human cost.’

And he said: ‘I think it’s time that the NHS and the politicians actually took a step back and considered the human impact that is being played out in pharmacies up and down the country.

‘Independent community pharmacists will keep on delivering and delivering really well, and the system will bed down increasingly, but there will be a human cost.

‘And I think policymakers, whilst they look at spreadsheets and numbers, they also need to think about the human cost and provide the right support for the independent community pharmacy sector – A. because that's what's right for patients, and B. because that's right for the humans who are behind the system, working round the clock, six days a week, sometimes seven days a week to deliver this amazing service.’

Mr Rees also called for a guarantee that the Pharmacy First service would remain beyond the two years of funding currently allocated to it.

‘We’re asking community pharmacies to spend money on putting in consulting rooms, to spend time on learning new skills, and new delivery pathways for a system that in two years’ time could be withdrawn from them.

‘We hope that obviously Pharmacy First is here to stay. I think it's what the public wants. We think it is what politicians want. But pharmacists haven't been given any certainty that that is the case,’ he said.

Mr Rees also told The Pharmacist that the government needed to do more to support the community pharmacy workforce.

‘I think more people need to be attracted into pharmacy in the first place. But I think once people are attracted into pharmacy, they need to be attracted into community pharmacy,’ he said.

‘Community pharmacy faces competition from hospitals, and from general practice, and the full mapping by the NHS and politicians to make sure that community pharmacy is just as attractive for people coming into pharmacy hasn't been done.

‘And so many people train up in community pharmacy and start their careers there and then are pulled away to hospitals or general practice. Well, that's not fair.’

And he suggested that the community pharmacy workforce was ‘a government and NHS issue’ to solve, highlighting the difference in workforce support provided within the pharmacy and GP contracts.

The government and NHSE were contacted for comment.