The UK Government has just officially launched its new NHS Pharmacy First service across England from 31 January 2024. This service should provide some support to local GPs, while giving patients a lot more flexibility in how they approach minor illnesses and problems.

But, according to some sources, around half of patients haven’t even heard of the scheme before – so, in this article, we will look at what’s about to change, what you need to know, and what to do going forward.

What is Pharmacy First?

The Pharmacy First programme first launched in Scotland in 2020; the idea was to help provide some support for GPs during a tumultuous time. Rather than waiting on the phone to make an appointment with a GP for a minor issue or ailment, patients could go straight to their local pharmacy to be seen and assessed by the pharmacist, have a prescription written up and given their medication afterwards. This community pharmacist consultation service has now been expanded to NHS England as well.

According to Community Pharmacy England, around 96% of pharmacies across England have signed up for the new scheme!

Pharmacists are often just as knowledgeable about minor ailments as GPs; their expertise in these areas means that, for minor illnesses and specific common clinical conditions, you can now visit your pharmacist directly. This may also help if you have less urgent but intermittently recurring medical conditions.

What Changes For Me?

With Pharmacy First, you no longer need a GP’s appointment to get certain types of prescriptions. If you have any of the following, or have symptoms you suspect may be caused by these conditions, you can visit your local community pharmacy, and speak directly to your pharmacist;

  • Acne
  • Allergies
  • Athlete’s foot
  • Backache
  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Cold sores
  • Constipation
  • Cough
  • Diarrhoea
  • Earache
  • Eczema
  • Headache
  • Head lice
  • Haemorrhoids (piles)
  • Hay fever
  • Impetigo
  • Indigestion
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pain
  • Period pain
  • Sore throat
  • Threadworms
  • Thrush
  • Uncomplicated urinary tract infections (such as cystitis in women)
  • Verrucas
  • Warts

This list is not exclusive; many other common conditions will be covered. If you are unsure if your condition would be covered, stop in and discuss it with your pharmacist. Pharmacy First’s clinical pathways will give your pharmacist an idea as to what cases they should be handling. 

Please note that, in some cases, your pharmacist may still direct you to speak to your GP, even if your condition is on the list. If your symptoms are unusual, or you have a recurring health issue that may point to other health conditions, the Pharmacy First self-assessment framework may not be suitable for you.

Some medications may also require a medication review after a set amount of time; you will still need to speak to your GP for these medication reviews.

If you need to make an appointment with your doctor, you will need to go through the usual process – your pharmacist cannot “fast track” you into an appointment. 

You will not require an appointment for this service – you should be able to drop in as required. Indeed, it is suspected that the first few weeks may be fairly quiet; Community Pharmacy England has said that “We, along with NHS and Government, are not expecting pharmacies to be inundated with patients initially: changing public behaviour takes time and effort, and a slow and steady transition period is likely.”[1]

While pharmacists may have more leeway in treating these minor ailments, they still have to follow clinical protocol – any treatments given will be recorded and added to your medical records as usual. This allows your doctor to keep track of any new medical conditions and treatments you may have been given.

Pharmacists will still provide their usual pharmacy services, in addition to Pharmacy First. This includes providing you with your medicines, supplying advice and offering items for purchase.

If you have a more direct medical problem, you can still call NHS 111 for assistance.

Does This Affect Your Service?

Here at Simple Online Pharmacy, nothing will be changing. Although we are a registered UK pharmacy, we are predominantly an online service; we do not see patients in person, meaning we do not currently provide this service. Of course, you can still order your medications from us as usual!

In closing, this new service should give GPs some much-needed support to deal with more serious conditions, while making patient’s lives a little easier!