The Conservative Party has set out spending plans of £250m each year on Pharmacy First from 2027 to 2030, as it pledges to expand the service to include more conditions like acne and chest infections.

This comes on top of £20m in 2025/26 and £49m in 2026/27, as revealed by the party’s manifesto costing document, published alongside its manifesto today.

As well as expanding Pharmacy First, the Conservatives suggested that community pharmacies could take on more women’s health services, such as contraceptive patches and injections as well as providing menopause support, including HRT.

More services welcome but core funding needed

Pharmacy leaders have welcomed the Conservative party’s plans for more community pharmacy services, but repeated calls to fund core and expanded services.

Paul Rees, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said that giving greater powers to pharmacies was ‘a clear, affordable way to cut waiting times for GPs and hospitals and give convenient, expert care to people on their doorsteps’, adding: ‘Ideas like this should be taken up by whoever forms the next government’.

‘But 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,’ he said.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), described the plan to expand Pharmacy First a ‘no-brainer’ that ‘makes sense for patients, pharmacies and general practice’.

‘However, any expansion of Pharmacy First must be fully funded. The community pharmacy sector cannot be expected to continue to subsidise the NHS,’ he added.

‘Core funding for pharmacies has experienced a real-terms cut in funding of 30% since 2015, and nearly 1,200 pharmacies have permanently closed. The next Government must close the deficit in funding to protect patients’ access to the community pharmacy network.’

Workforce key to expanding pharmacy services

Mr Harrison also said that the next government needed ‘to deliver on the NHS long-term workforce plan and ensure we have more community pharmacies to meet the ever-rising workload and patient demand pharmacies are facing.’

Paul Day, director of The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), also highlighted the importance of workforce.

‘More funding is of course welcome, but if it is accompanied by even more work without sufficient staffing in place it could increase problems with the patients’ experience as well as workplace stress and pharmacist wellbeing.

‘We actually need the existing workload to be properly funded with sufficient competent staff in place.  Once that is the situation then additional funded work along with the extra staffing and any new income shared between contractors and the health professionals they employ would be welcome,’ he said.

'Political consensus' on pharmacy 'positive'

Janet Morrison, chief executive of Community Pharmacy England (CPE), also welcomed commitments to expand the role of community pharmacy.

'We have been urging all political parties to commit to working with us to develop pharmacy services for the benefit of patients, pharmacies and the wider NHS. Pharmacies are vital community healthcare assets, but they need the security of a sustainable funding model to continue to deliver high quality primary health services.

'The commitments made by political parties so far to look at expanding the role that community pharmacies can play – whether by expanding Pharmacy First, as pledged by the Conservative Party, or extending prescribing rights and public health services, as pledged by the Liberal Democrats – show the strength of the support for the sector, and this political consensus is very positive,' she said.

And she welcomed the Conservative party's specific commitment to expanding Pharmacy First into further treatment areas.

'There is still work to be done to cement Pharmacy First’s long-term success and we urge all political parties to commit to long-term sustainable funding alongside any further development of pharmacy services,' she said.

Call to review prescription charge amid cost of living crisis

James Davies, Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) director for England, told The Pharmacist he welcomed the cross-party support for Pharmacy First 'and the recognition of how pharmacists are central to delivering government ambitions for the NHS'.

He added: 'As we ask pharmacists to do more, this needs to go hand in hand with support for the workforce, sustainable funding, and a roadmap for prescribing services.

'Amid a cost-of-living crisis, I’d urge all the political parties to commit to reviewing the complex and unjust system of prescription charges in England,' Mr Davies added.

And he said that pharmacists and pharmacy teams could all help put pharmacy 'at the forefront of the general election' by sharing the RPS's manifesto with local candidates.