Published by BBC NEWS - 16th November 2023
  • Published
Woman holding oral contraceptive pillsImage source, Getty Images

Almost half a million women will be able to get the contraceptive pill from pharmacies in England, from next month, without the need for a GP appointment.

Treatments for urinary infections and other common conditions will also be on offer under the Pharmacy First scheme.

NHS England said it was a safe and common-sense way of making NHS services easier for patients to use.

But one pharmacy group said community outlets were closing at an alarming pace because of a lack of funding.

Insect bites

New Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins said the changes meant “more options for women when making a choice about their preferred contraception” and would free up GP appointments.

It will bring England into line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where similar services are already offered.

And from February, pharmacists who successfully apply to join the scheme will be able to offer advice and treatment, including antibiotics, for seven common conditions:

  • sinusitis
  • sore throat
  • earache
  • infected insect bites
  • impetigo
  • shingles
  • urinary tract infection in women

NHS England said more blood-pressure checks would also be offered, as part of a plan to deliver more than two million by 2025.

In time, when thousands of pharmacies are signed up to the plan, this could prevent more than 1,000 heart attacks and strokes, it added.

The aim is that 10 million GP appointments will eventually be freed up every year.

‘Worrying pace’

NHS primary-care medical director and lead GP in England Dr Claire Fuller said she was “delighted” people would have new and convenient ways of accessing treatments.

“Contraception is essential for many women and this is a big step forward in making these services easier for women to access,” she added.

Tase Oputu, who chairs the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English Pharmacy Board, also welcomed community-pharmacy teams being able to treat the seven common conditions

But some pharmacists are cautious about the scheme.

Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies chief executive Dr Leyla Hannbeck said it was “a step in the right direction for patient care” but would “very much depend on the level of red tape and whether pharmacists’ time was compensated appropriately”.

Years of underfunding and rising inflation meant “more and more pharmacies are closing their doors for good at a worrying pace in many areas of the country”, she added.

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