Almost half a million women will be able to get the Pill for free from their high street pharmacy, in a bid to ease pressures on GPs.
From next month, women in England who begin taking the contraceptive can obtain their first prescription without having to see their GP, under NHS reforms announced today.
Instead, they will only need to have a check-up with a pharmacist to record their blood pressure and weight.
In a bid to ease demand on over-stretched GP surgeries, pharmacies will also increase the number of blood pressure checks they are offering from December.
And from February, pharmacies gain new powers to dish out common prescription drugs, such as antibiotics, for seven common conditions, including sinusitis, a sore throat and UTIs.
From next month, women in England who begin taking the contraceptive can obtain their first prescription without having to see their GP, under NHS reforms announced today. Instead, they will only need to have a check-up with a pharmacist to record their blood pressure and weight. In a bid to ease demand on over-stretched GP surgeries, pharmacies will also increase the number of blood pressure checks they are offering from December
These plans, which were first announced in May, will bring England in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where similar services are already offered.
Here MailOnline explains what the announcement means for you and what you can go to your pharmacist for.
NHS Contraception service
At least 500,000 women a year will be able to get free contraceptive pills on the high street without having to see a GP under the new NHS plans.
Starting in December, women in England can obtain a first prescription of the Pill by visiting their local pharmacy.
WHAT KEY SERVICES DO COMMUNITY PHARMACIES ALREADY OFFER?
- Minor illness advice
- Dispensing NHS prescriptions
- Emergency contraception
- Asthma inhaler use and advice
- Chlamydia screening and treatment
- Medicines advice
- Stop smoking service
- Blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar testing
- Substance misuse service, including needle and syringe exchange schemes
- Weight management service
- Flu and Covid vaccination
The move will give women greater choice over where to get the Pill and forms a package of measures aimed at freeing up 10million GP appointments by next winter.
Pharmacists are currently permitted to dispense contraceptive pills — after they have been initially prescribed by a GP — and offer advice on different types of contraception.
But they can now sign up for the new service to dish out contraceptive pills without patients having to go through general practice.
Not all pharmacies will opt-in to offer this service, meaning it may not be available everywhere in England.
But the NHS has asked them to sign up and, for those that do, will pay an upfront fee of £2,000 a well as payment for each consultation. Industry sources expect a large majority to nominate themselves.
As more pharmacies join the scheme, the NHS website will be updated so women can check which locations offer the service.
Women can still go to their GP if they want to start taking the pill, if preferred.
And women who are deemed too overweight or whose blood pressure is high — putting them at higher risk of blood clots on the combined pill — may be referred to their GP for further checks.
Blood Pressure Checks
Community pharmacies have long offered blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar testing.
But the Blood Pressure Check service, which allows people over the age of 40 to check if they are at risk of a heart attack or strike, will expand from December 1 with a wider range of trained pharmacy staff able to provide it.
Officials hope the programme will see up to 2.5million blood pressure checks will be delivered by spring 2025.
NHS England estimates this could prevent more than 1,350 heart attacks and strokes in the first year of the scheme alone.
Among other key services high street chemists already provide include weight management services, Covid and flu vaccinations, medicines advice and asthma inhaler advice, NHS prescriptions and chlamydia screening and treatment.
Under the measures unveiled in May, the Government revealed a pharmacy common ailments scheme in England would be launched before the end of 2023. Under the service, patients will be able to get a prescription from their pharmacist for seven minor illnesses including earache and urinary tract infections without having to see their GP first. The plans also included expanding the contraception and blood pressure checking services, both of which have been announced today
National Pharmacy First service
Pharmacies will act as the first port of call, without the need for a GP appointment or prescription, for an array of conditions from 2024.
The Pharmacy First service will see pharmacists give advice and, where clinically necessary, offer prescription-only treatment for a range of minor illnesses.
Scheduled to launch on January 31, 2024, the service will be limited to seven conditions at first, with ambitions to expand as the service matures.
These include, sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women.
This could see pharmacists dish out antibiotics without GP oversight for the first time.
If the pharmacy teams are unable to help with a patient’s condition, they will be signposted to another part of the health service, such as general practice or A&E.