The ‘success and full benefit’ of Pharmacy First will be reliant on the ‘building and sustaining of local relationships’ between general practice and community pharmacy teams, NHS England (NHSE) has said as the service is confirmed to launch next week.

In a letter to primary care stakeholders published yesterday, NHSE said that Pharmacy First would be launching on Wednesday 31 January 2024 as planned, with more than 10,000 pharmacies having signed up to deliver the service so far.

It will see community pharmacists in England offering advice and treatment for seven common conditions – sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women – under a nationally commissioned service utilising patient group directions (PGDs).

In addition to walking into their local community pharmacy, patients will be able to access the service through referrals from general practice, as well as NHS 111, urgent treatment centres, integrated urgent care clinical assessment services, emergency departments and 999.

Pharmacy First in England will replace the Community Pharmacy Consultation Scheme (CPCS).

While general practices will initially receive consultation information from community pharmacies via the existing NHSMail process, a new GP Connect system will be rolled out throughout February to enable practice staff to ‘review consultation information and add the data to the patient record with one click of a button’.

NHSE encouraged integrated care boards (ICBs) to ‘work collaboratively’ with various healthcare providers in their local integrated care system (ICS) ‘to support the implementation of this service’.

‘The success and full benefit of the service for patients and the NHS will be in the building and sustaining of local relationships between general practice and community pharmacy teams,’ the letter said.

Earlier this month, Abbas Esmail, a community pharmacist based in Birmingham, who is already running a similar locally commissioned PGD-based service, told The Pharmacist that helping general practice teams, particularly receptionists who would be the first point of contact for patients, would be ‘key’.

‘Where we have managed to convince GP practices and where they have seen case after case workload taken off, they have really bought into the service,’ he said.

And he suggested that getting local medical committees (LMCs) and other representatives on board, who could then visit surgeries and help them understand ‘what can be done’, would help build national support for the service.

Raj Matharu, chief executive officer at Community Pharmacy South East London also told The Pharmacist earlier this month that he hopes to build relationships between settings through speaking to local practices and running regular in-person training hubs with community, practice and primary care network pharmacists across South East London.

He hoped this would establish ‘trust and confidence’ between local GP surgeries and community pharmacies ‘so that they're able to refer with confidence [that] this patient will be looked after by local pharmacists and be dealt with appropriately’.

Responding to the latest correspondence from NHSE, Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), highlighted that the ‘success’ of the service would ‘depend on GPs being onboard and supporting it and working collaboratively with pharmacies’.

England’s chief pharmaceutical officer recently told community pharmacy teams that key to the success of Pharmacy First, as well as the recently expanded contraception and hypertension services, was ‘effective and sustainable’ relationships between the sector and general practices at a local level.

A recent report from The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust suggested more should be done to ‘support collaboration’ rather than ‘fostering competition’ between different parts of the primary care system, with ‘frontline’ clinical staff across all settings seen as part of a multi-disciplinary neighbourhood health team.

And pharmacist and National Association of Primary Care (NAPC) president Ash Soni has previously told The Pharmacist that practice pharmacists have ‘a real opportunity’ to be a ‘conduit’ between community pharmacy and general practice.

Speaking to The Pharmacist about recent changes to student training placements, Primary Care Pharmacy Association (PCPA) president Dr Graham Stretch urged community pharmacies and practice pharmacists to begin building relationships now ahead of the 2026/7 change to multi-sector placements for foundation year trainees.

And he suggested that prescribers working in general practice could help support community pharmacy placements to fulfil the prescribing training requirements.