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A team of scientists and experts have been awarded funding to evaluate the new National Health Service Pharmacy First service.

Image of two women leaving a pharmacy shop with medication in a bag - an older woman with a shopping bag on wheels is helped by a younger woman, © Getty images

Experts behind OpenSAFELY, from the University of Oxford's Bennett Institute for Applied Data Science, in collaboration with researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), the Universities of Nottingham and Manchester and experts at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), have been awarded £2.4m by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to evaluate the new service introduced to allow pharmacies to prescribe for minor illnesses.  

The Pharmacy First Service launched across England in January 2024 under the Government’s NHS Primary Care Recovery Plan. From February 2024, participating pharmacies will be able to supply prescription-only medicines for seven common conditions: earache, uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women, sore throat, sinusitis, impetigo, shingles and infected insect bites, after consultation with a community pharmacist.  

The research team will evaluate Pharmacy First's take-up, safety, equity, cost effectiveness and acceptability, as well as its implications for antibiotic use and antimicrobial resistance.  

Brian MacKenna, Director for NHS Service Analytics at Oxford's Bennett Institute for Applied Data Science, within the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, said 
'The Bennett Institute has developed substantial expertise in pharmacy and NHS clinical record data, through our OpenPrescribing and OpenSAFELY projects. If you are interested in contributing to the project, please keep an eye on our website for job adverts and other ways to get involved!.'  

The project lead, Dr Rebecca Glover, Assistant Professor in Antimicrobial Resistance at LSHTM, said:  
‘I am delighted to lead this complex three-year Pharmacy First evaluation, where we will evaluate Pharmacy First's impact on GPs and the wider NHS, pharmacy services and patients. Our team has expertise in evaluating complex policy interventions, such as the last two UK Antimicrobial Resistance National Action Plans, so alongside expert external colleagues, we will pay particular attention to the impact of Pharmacy First on antibiotic prescribing and resistance across the health system.’  

Dr Kimberley Sonnex, University of Nottingham, said 
‘I’m excited to work with a research team including cross-discipline expertise from pharmacists, general practitioners, nurses, health economists, policy researchers, and experts in antimicrobial resistance to evaluate a new community pharmacy service that puts patients first.’  

Professor Rachel Elliot, lead for the Manchester Centre for Health Economics, said:  
‘I am looking forward to working on the evaluation of Pharmacy First. When resources are limited in the NHS, it is essential we spend that money on safe and effective services to make sure patients get the best value for money from their healthcare.’  

Community pharmacies are important providers of healthcare and are accessible to all communities, including the medically-underserved. This evaluation will contribute to understanding possible consequences of Pharmacy First for inequalities in access to health services and outcomes.  





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