Pharmacy First

Posted by: sameena - Posted on:

The new Pharmacy First scheme enables your local pharmacy to treat some common conditions with prescription-only medicines, without you visiting your GP. Find out everything you need to know.

The NHS has launched a major transformation to try and make it easier for patients to access the care they need. 

What is Pharmacy First? 

Patients across England can now get prescription-only treatment for seven common conditions at their local high street pharmacy, without needing to see a GP. 

This can include prescribing and supplying antibiotics and antivirals where clinically appropriate. 

What conditions can be treated at my pharmacy? 

Your local pharmacy can now supply prescription-only treatment, if they believe you need it, for the following conditions: 

  • Sinusitis (for patients aged 12 years and over only)
  • Sore throat (aged 5+)
  • Earache (aged 1 year-17)
  • Infected insect bite (aged 1 year+)
  • Impetigo (aged 18 years+)
  • Shingles (aged 18 years+)
  • Uncomplicated urinary tract infections (women aged 16 to 64) 

How does it work? 

If you are feeling unwell with any of these conditions, you can go to your local participating pharmacy and ask for a private consultation with the pharmacist. 

You may also be referred by a GP practice if they don’t have any appointments and believe your pharmacy can help. The 111 helpline service may also refer you. Pharmacists can also offer this service on-the-spot if you go in asking generally for help.

Pharmacists may offer a virtual consultation by phone or video call, or in person in a private room in the pharmacy. They will ask questions, may perform an examination and must get your consent to access your medical records. The pharmacist will be able to recommend the best course of action based on your clinical needs. This might include issuing prescriptions for antibiotics or antivirals where necessary or advising you on over-the-counter treatments that could help.

What are the benefits of the scheme? 

There are many benefits to the new scheme, helping to make care easier and more accessible. These benefits include: 

  • Participating pharmacies must offer the service during all their opening hours including any late nights or weekends.
  • It may be quicker to see your pharmacist than waiting for an appointment with your GP.
  • Pharmacy First – along with expanded Blood Pressure Check  and Oral Contraception services at pharmacies – could free up to 10 million GP appointments a year. 

How can my pharmacist supply a prescription-only medicine if they are not a doctor?

Pharmacists must follow a strict NHS protocol (called a ‘patient group direction’) covering their own required knowledge and skills the types of patients covered. 

This means that the supply of prescription-only medicines will be limited in all cases by age groups, and in one case, by gender.

Will I have to pay for my advice or medication? 

The appointment and advice from a pharmacist are free to access. 

If you are recommended an over-the-counter medication, you will pay the costs of buying this. 

If you are supplied with a prescription-only medication, usual prescription charges would apply unless you qualify for free prescriptions.

If you regularly require medication and are not exempt from prescription charges, you may be able to save money through a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC). Find out what help you can get to pay for your prescriptions.

How do I know if my local pharmacy is participating?

Most pharmacies have agreed in principle to deliver the new service but may launch at different times, from 31 January 2024 onwards. They may need to train staff, upgrade IT and install a private consultation room.

Can I get oral contraception without a prescription? 

From December 2023, some pharmacies will be able to start women on oral contraception (also known as ‘the Pill’) for the first time, or re-start them after a break, without the person needing to see their GP first. This is an extension of the existing oral contraception service that let women go to pharmacies for repeat prescriptions, that had been initiated first by a GP.

The pharmacist will offer a confidential consultation to discuss your current medication and ensure it is the best option for your needs. 

Oral contraception is free on the NHS, and you will not be charged any prescription charges. 

To find a local pharmacy offering this service – check out the NHS website. 

Can I still see my GP? 

You can still choose to visit your GP if you prefer. Pharmacy First simply offers an alternative route for getting treatment for these specific conditions. 

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