Data from large pharmacy multiples suggests that pharmacists are ‘closely following’ Pharmacy First clinical guidance for medicines, including antibiotics supply, the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) has said.

Three-quarters of consultations that passed the Pharmacy First payment gateway in the first month of the service resulted in a medicine supply, the CCA said.

In the first two months of the service launching, CCA member pharmacies recorded 92,384 Pharmacy First consultations that passed the payment gateway.

Of those recorded in the first month, in 75% (31,702) of consultations, a medicine was supplied, with rates varying across each condition.

In the first month, 95% (2,644) of impetigo consultations resulted in a medicines supply, whereas just 54% (3,632) of otitis media consultations did so.

For three of the seven clinical conditions (UTI, infected insect bites and acute sore throat), where a medicine is supplied, it will be an antibiotic as per the PGDs and clinical pathways.

Pharmacists can supply antivirals where necessary for patients with shingles, and for the other three conditions, non antibiotic alternatives are available, according to suitability as per the clinical pathways.

In the case of sinusitis, two treatment options are available: a high dose steroid nasal spray (for mild cases) or antibiotics (for more severe cases).

In 49% of sinusitis consultations recorded by the CCA pharmacies, the steroid nasal spray was supplied rather than antibiotics.

‘This shows pharmacists can manage patient expectations for antibiotic treatment and supply the most appropriate treatment option based on their symptoms,’ the CCA said.

And it pointed to further data showing that ‘pharmacists are closely following the guidance set out within the service’, highlighting that ‘90% of antibiotics supplied for sore throats were the “first line treatment”, penicillin’.

If medicines supply was not appropriate, 17% of total Pharmacy First consultations delivered by CCA members in the first month resulted in advice only, while 8% of patients were signposted elsewhere.

The low rates of onward referral seen so far, suggests that ‘the vast majority of patients are receiving the care they need in the community pharmacy itself’, and ‘demonstrates how the service is meeting one of its key purposes – reducing pressure on general practice’, the CCA said.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA commented that while 'early signs are promising’, GPs needed to be given ‘targeted support to refer more patients into Pharmacy First’.

The CCA found that just one in five patients eligible for Pharmacy First were referred from general practice.

Almost three-quarters (73%) of all eligible patients were signposted informally to the service or attended the pharmacy themselves.

Just 6% were referred from NHS 111 and 1% came from other sources.

Mr Harrison also called for ‘further high-quality and targeted engagement campaigns to raise wider public awareness’.

‘Most importantly, the pharmacy sector needs a commitment from policymakers to fund Pharmacy First beyond March 2025. This needs to be accompanied by a package of measures to address historic underfunding for the sector and action to ensure patients can continue to access the prescription medicines they need,’ he added.

Inadequate referrals from GPs were cited as a major reason for pharmacies struggling to meet Pharmacy First minimum consultation thresholds in a recent survey of 266 independent pharmacy owners conducted by the Independent Pharmacies Association (IPA).

Six in 10 independent pharmacy owners responding to the IPA survey also said that less than half of their Pharmacy First consultations pass the gateway point for a service payment, while the majority said they were spending an average of 20 minutes or more on each consultation.

In comparison, the CCA data suggests that 88% (81,627) of patients presenting to a CCA member pharmacy with one of the seven common conditions within the first month of the service had a consultation with a pharmacist that passed the gateway point.