Community pharmacies will be able to initiate oral contraception from next month, NHS England (NHSE) has announced.
The move would see ‘almost half a million women’ able to access the pill next year without needing to contact their general practice first, according to NHSE.
And it comes alongside announcements of a new community pharmacy common conditions scheme – Pharmacy First – which will begin at the end of January, and a re-launch of the community pharmacy blood pressure check service next month.
Tier two of the Pharmacy Contraception Service will launch on 1 December, allowing community pharmacists to initiate oral contraception.
Health leaders have welcomed the opportunity for nearly half a million people to access the combined oral contraceptive pill on their high streets next year.
But some have warned there may be issues with the roll-out of the service, including concerns about whether the necessary IT infrastructure will be ready in time.
And while the changes will commence from 1 December, pharmacy teams will be able to notify NHSE whenever they are ready to begin delivering the service after this launch date.
NHSE said that the nhs.uk webpage would be updated as more pharmacies sign up to provide the service, enabling people to check online to see where it is being offered locally.
Community pharmacies providing the service will continue to receive a fee of £18 per consultation.
Community Pharmacy England (CPE) said that it had asked for an increase in the Pharmacy Contraception Service fee, supported by ‘detailed costing rationale’, but that this was rejected by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHSE.
The pharmacy negotiator also stressed it was ‘clear that IT systems must be in place ahead of service launches’.
When the pharmacy contraception service was piloted earlier this year, more than 4,500 women who had already accessed the pill were able to receive an ongoing supply of oral contraception at their local pharmacy, NHSE said today.
And when Tier 1 of the Pharmacy Contraception service was launched in April, more than 15% of community pharmacies in England signed up to provide it within the first few weeks, as revealed by our sister title The Pharmacist.
Tier 2 of the service was originally set to begin in October this year, but both the first and second stages of the service roll-out were delayed.
Today’s announcements come as part of reforms promised in the primary care recovery plan published in May.
NHSE chief executive Amanda Pritchard commented on the launch of the expanded service: ‘This is really good news for women – we all lead increasingly busy lives, and thanks to this action, rather than making a GP appointment, they can simply pop into their local pharmacy when they need or want to access contraception.’
William Pett, head of policy, public affairs and research at Healthwatch England, highlighted the importance of effective communication about the service, as well as potential issues around IT systems and patient access.
‘Women across England will welcome the convenience of getting the contraceptive pill at a local pharmacy,’ he 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.’
But 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,’ Mr Pett said.