Antidepressants will be added to the new medicine service (NMS) from April 2023, subject to analysis of a current pilot scheme, as part of an agreement for the final two years of the current community pharmacy contract.
The NMS, which launched in 2011, enables community pharmacists to support patients who have been newly prescribed medicines across several therapy areas, including osteoporosis, gout, heart failure and glaucoma.
The service was expanded from covering 4 therapy areas to 16 areas in August 2021, as part of the agreement for the third year of the five-year community pharmacy contract, but it did not include depression — a move described as “a serious omission” by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).
Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said the ongoing pilot scheme was looking at educational needs for pharmacists advising on the use of antidepressants and “network logistics”, such as how and where patients could be referred on by pharmacists.
“This is something that many people had hoped would be included in the NMS since its inception,” he said.
Thorrun Govind, chair of the RPS’s English Pharmacy Board, said: “It is good to finally see the inclusion of antidepressants in the NMS, so people with mental health conditions can benefit from the support of pharmacists as they start their treatment. Adherence can be a significant issue for this class of medicine as it can take time before the benefits are apparent, and sometimes side effects can also deter patients who are already in distress. Having a pharmacist regularly checking in on patients to help them make best use of their medicines will have a positive impact on health outcomes.
“Pharmacists and their teams already support patients with mental health conditions so this is a logical extension of that role.”
Also included in the agreement for the final two years of the contract, which covers 2022/2023 and 2023/2024, is the use of pharmacist technicians in providing elements of the smoking cessation service and blood pressure check service.
The agreement adds: “Other services or elements of services that may be deliverable by pharmacy technicians will also be reviewed during the remaining years of the deal.”
Buxton said he hoped that these changes would be introduced before the end of 2022, but he said they would require legislative amendments.
The updated Pharmacy Quality Scheme, agreed as part of the contract, will see new criteria aimed at improving access to medicines to support palliative and end-of-life care.
Pharmacies will have to update their NHS profile to indicate whether they hold 16 identified end-of-life critical medicines and have an action plan in place to be able to support patients and carers in obtaining palliative and end-of-life medicines.