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NHSE faces challenges in Pharmacy First delivery due to necessary IT changes

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The implementation of the digital infrastructure supporting Pharmacy First will take more time

Acknowledging the ongoing challenges in delivering the required IT systems for the scheduled launch of the Pharmacy First service on January 31, NHS England reported progress in fulfilling ‘many’ commitments outlined in its plan to enhance primary care access during a board meeting on Thursday.

However, it noted that the digital infrastructure supporting Pharmacy First, included in the £645 million fresh funding for community pharmacy, will require additional time for implementation.

“Delivery remains challenging due to changes needed in digital infrastructure, and we are working with suppliers to support January implementation,” NHSE said. “A public campaign is planned for 2024.”

The Pharmacy First service allows pharmacists to supply prescription-only medicines for seven common health conditions (sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women), eliminating the need for a GP visit.

Meanwhile, NHSE is leveraging the widespread accessibility of pharmacies by expanding blood pressure monitoring and introducing direct prescribing of clinically safe oral contraceptives—an initiative that has been well-received.

Starting in spring 2024, NHSE aims to conduct 2.5 million annual blood pressure checks, a significant increase from 900,000 last year. “Projections indicate that this initiative could prevent over 1,350 heart attacks and strokes annually,” it added.

Almost half a million women are also expected to access the contraceptive pill without contacting their GP first. NHSE mentioned that the nhs.uk webpage will be regularly updated for easy access to nearby oral contraceptive providers as more pharmacies offer the service.

NHSE confirmed it is ‘on track’ to achieve 90 per cent of practices enabling patients to view their care records through the NHS app by March 2024. Furthermore, it emphasised reaching its goal of providing 90 per cent of practices with the capability for patients to book or cancel appointments online.

Its current focus is on achieving pivotal milestones to notably enhance patient access. This involves expanding pharmacy services and introducing digital enablement to bolster modern general practice, incorporating the utilisation of the NHS App and digital telephony.

NHSE outlined 14 commitments spanning four areas: empowering patients, implementing ‘Modern General Practices Access’, building capacity, and reducing bureaucracy. “Over the six months since publication, significant progress has been attained in all key aspects of the plan, despite encountering challenges” it added.

Community Pharmacy England is hosting webinars to help pharmacy owners and teams prepare for the new Pharmacy First service and updates to the Contraception and Hypertension Case-Finding Services.

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