Last reviewed 21 November 2023

The Government, NHS England and Community Pharmacy England have agreed that the Pharmacy First scheme will launch on 31 January 2024, subject to the “appropriate digital systems being in place”.

This means community pharmacists will be able to access and add to patient records that are currently maintained by GPs from January next year.

The organisations said they are working with all pharmacy IT system suppliers currently assured for the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS), blood pressure check service and Pharmacy Contraception Service (PCS) to update their clinical systems to support the launch of the scheme.

There will be investment in connecting and improving the digital infrastructure between general practice and community pharmacy to “streamline referrals”, “increase access” to more parts of the GP patient record and improve how GP records are updated after provision of pharmacy services.

A clinical triage system will also send electronic referrals from NHS 111 and urgent and emergency care settings to community pharmacy that may otherwise go to a GP practice for seven common conditions: sinusitis; sore throat; earache; infected insect bite; impetigo; shingles; and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women. And referrals from GPs moving away from NHSmail will be streamlined.

A letter sent to community pharmacy contractors confirmed that, from the launch of the scheme, community pharmacies will:

  • have access to medications, observations and investigations of the GP record

  • use the new Pharmacy First consultation record to capture the consultation, which will then send automatic structured updates to the GP record and to the NHS Business Services Authority to support payments and reporting on the service.

Healthwatch England Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Research William Pett said: “Being able to see your GP in a timely manner remains the public’s top concern. If this initiative is effectively communicated and delivered, it will make a real difference to patients and relieve the pressure on hard-pressed services.”

He added: “There could be potential problems, such as pharmacists not being able to see enough of people’s GP records or the ability of different communities and areas to access the new service. However, if evaluated well, the NHS will be able to ensure that this promising new service really works for patients.”

More details will be published closer to the launch of the Pharmacy First service, including details of registration, set-up fee process and clinical pathways.