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Common and minor ailment services

London minor ailments scheme to close at end of March 2020

Exclusive: ‘Pharmacy first’, which covers 14 London boroughs, will close on 31 March 2020 after being saved from closure twice previously.

Over the counter medicines on shop shelves


‘Pharmacy first’ offers free over-the-counter medicines, where appropriate, to patients who do not pay for prescriptions

A community pharmacy-run minor ailments scheme covering 14 London boroughs will cease at the end of March 2020, The Pharmaceutical Journal has learned.

The ‘Pharmacy first’ scheme — distinct from the Scottish service of the same name — will close on 31 March 2020.

The scheme covers 14 London boroughs and is open to patients with minor ailments who are registered with a local GP, offering consultations and, where appropriate, free over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to patients who do not normally pay prescription charges.

Jo Churchill, pharmacy minister, said in a written parliamentary answer, published on 2 March 2020, that the London scheme “has been replaced by the nationally commissioned NHS community pharmacist consultation service (CPCS)”.

Hackney, in east London, is one of the 14 boroughs where the service is provided. John Makepeace, chief executive of City and Hackney Local Pharmaceutical Committee (LPC), confirmed that the scheme would close at the end of March 2020.

Makepeace said he was “very disappointed that NHS England decided to decommission it”, and added that he did not consider the CPCS a replacement for Pharmacy first.

Under the CPCS, there is no scheme for free provision of OTC medicine for minor ailments. 

The decommissioning of Pharmacy first “will lead to more patients going to GP appointments and to A&E — which is not what we need,” Makepeace said.

He added that there had been “an opportunity to look at the service and amend it appropriately” — including an update of the formulary — but NHS England had “chosen not to do this”.

The scheme had been earmarked for closure twice before, in 2018 and 2019, but on both occasions a reprieve was granted.

Makepeace said that City and Hackney LPC was now in discussions with local bodies, including Hackney Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board and local clinical commissioning groups, “to make them aware of the impact, and to see if we can put something together to mitigate the loss of service”.

NHS England has been contacted for comment.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20207781

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