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Conservatives unveil plan to expand Pharmacy First, build more CDCs

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Pharmacy First to include treatment for more conditions such as menopause, acne, and chest infections

The Conservative party has announced a comprehensive plan to expand community care services with the aim of modernising and securing the sustainability of the National Health Service (NHS).

The new plan, unveiled on Sunday, include expansion of the Pharmacy First service, modernization of GP surgeries, and construction of 50 new community diagnostic centres (CDCs).

By allowing pharmacies to offer more treatments without a prescription, the Conservatives aim to improve access to healthcare and alleviate pressure on hospitals.

The Conservatives plan to finance these initiatives by reducing NHS managerial positions to pre-pandemic levels and halving the management consultancy spend across the government. Additionally, the party said that the planning guidance will be overhauled to ensure health gets a “bigger share” of developer contributions from new housing developments.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated that they are investing in community services to secure the future of the NHS and make healthcare more accessible.

“The NHS is one of our most important national assets and the Conservatives are taking the long-term decisions to secure its future.

“As part of our clear plan we are investing in community services making it quicker, easier and more convenient for patients to receive the care they need and help to relieve pressure on hospital services,” he said.  

He added that “only the Conservatives” will take the necessary bold actions to ensure that the NHS remains available for all whenever needed.

Sunak highlighted the vital role of pharmacies in communities and expressed gratitude to pharmacists for their essential service.

“Pharmacies are the lifeblood of their communities, providing continuity and long-term support to patients and families.

“That’s why we launched Pharmacy First to make it will become quicker, easier and more convenient for people to obtain NHS care for seven common conditions locally,” he told Pharmacy Business.

He revealed plans for further expanding the service to include treatments for more conditions, aiming to ease access to NHS care and free up GP capacity.

“Now we are going further so that more treatments can be accessed without the hassle of getting an appointment such as for chest infections and the menopause. This will free up GP capacity too so people can access a doctor’s appointment faster and easier.

“I’d like to thank pharmacists across the country for their essential service to their patients and their communities.”

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins praised the role of community health services, saying, “Pharmacies, GPs, and Community Diagnostic Centres are the backbone of our NHS.”

She noted that these services have become more accessible to more people in more locations because of the “bold action” they have taken.

The health secretary acknowledged the success of Pharmacy First and the new Community Diagnostic Centres, however, she stressed the need for further efforts.

“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,” she added.  

Key points of the party’s community health service expansion plan include:

  1. Expanding Pharmacy First to offer women more contraceptive options, deliver menopause support, and provide treatment for conditions such as acne and chest infections without requiring a GP visit. The expanded scheme is projected to free up 20 million GP appointments nationwide once fully implemented.
  2. Building 100 new GP surgeries and modernizing 150 existing ones, particularly in areas of greatest need and regions experiencing significant housing growth.
  3. Creating an additional 50 new Community Diagnostic Centres, building on the existing programme that has established 160 centres. These new centres are expected to provide 2.5 million additional checks and diagnostic tests annually once fully operational.

Introduced earlier this year, Pharmacy First enables pharmacists to provide treatment and prescribe medication for seven specific conditions: sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bites, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women.

Labour accuses Tories of making empty promises

Wes Streeting, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, responded to the Conservatives’ community care announcement by stating: “The Conservatives have broken their manifesto promise to recruit more GPs, instead cutting 1,700 since 2016 and closing down more than 450 GP practices.”

“Patients are finding it harder than ever before to see a GP, so why would they trust this latest empty promise?

“The doctor can’t see you now, and it will only get worse if the Tories are given another five years.

Labour pledges to address this by training thousands more GPs and cutting the red tape that ties up GPs time to bring back the family doctor.

Pharmacy leaders urge adequate funding

Paul Rees, CEO of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), has welcomed the Conservative Party’s Pharmacy First extension proposal but underscores the urgency for adequate funding.

“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 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, CEO of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), pointed out that the core funding cuts have resulted in the closure of almost 1,200 pharmacies since 2015.

“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 per cent 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,” he said.

Prof. Harry McQuillan, Chairman of Numark, also highlighted the importance of securing sufficient funding for both the expansion of Pharmacy First and the core contract which underpins service provision.

“Pharmacy First is far more than freeing up GP time: it is about improving patient access to appropriate professional healthcare support and advice,” he asserted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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