What pharmacies do

Published on: 10th February 2022 | Updated on: 7th February 2024

There are c.10,700 community pharmacies in England providing accessible healthcare alongside the dispensing of medicines.

In October 2019, a five-year deal for community pharmacies came into effect. This guarantees funding levels until 2023/24 and sets out how pharmacies will adapt to provide new services to help people to stay healthy and prevent illness; to support and provide urgent care services; to support people leaving hospital; and to help people avoid unnecessary visits to GPs and hospitals.

Since April 2020, all pharmacies are able to process electronic prescriptions and have attained Healthy Living Pharmacy (HLP) Level 1 status. Accreditation as an HLP means that they are local hubs to promote health, wellbeing and self-care and providing services to prevent ill-health.

In May 2023, the Government announced pharmacies would be be given powers to hand out prescriptions in England and other patient treatment roles, pledging a £645m investment.

On 31st January 2024, the ‘Pharmacy First’ service launches, with over 10,000 NHS pharmacies now offering treatment for seven common conditions.

Day to day work

The daily life of a community pharmacist is hugely varied, drawing on a wide range of clinical and non-clinical competencies and skills. Every pharmacy is required to be operated under the control of a ‘Responsible Pharmacist’. Daily tasks undertaken by community pharmacists include:

  • clinical scrutiny of prescriptions;
  • oversight of safe dispensing processes;
  • providing people with advice about medicines and treatments;
  • provision of public health information to people and promotion of wellness;
  • signposting people to other services, self-care organisations or information resources;
  • assessment and treatment for minor ailments;
  • professional oversight of the sales of over the counter (OTC) medicines;
  • liaison with other healthcare professionals;
  • clinical review services for specific groups of people in GP practices, e.g. asthma, diabetes, hypertension;
  • medicines management support for GP practices, e.g. supporting practice formulary and clinical guideline implementation, repeat prescription management; and
  • providing locally commissioned services such as supply of Prescription Only Medicines (POMs) under Patient Group Directions (PGDs), screening services, public health interventions and treatments.

Core NHS services

Community pharmacies in England operate under the NHS Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF), which consists of Essential, Advanced and local commissioned services.

Essential services are those which every pharmacy must provide. These are:

  • Dispensing: working to a prescription, pharmacists will provide you with your medicines labelled correctly following the directions of a GP or other healthcare provider who can write prescriptions (e.g. nurses, dentists or pharmacists).
  • Repeat Dispensing: allowing you to collect your regular repeat prescription medicines direct from your local pharmacy for an agreed period of time, without having to go back to your GP. You will need to give your permission to your GP for him/her to share information with your chosen pharmacist. When you need your prescription, instead of requesting it from your GP, you will be able to get your medicines directly from your local pharmacy.
  • Support for self-care: helping you to look after and care for yourself and your family. Your pharmacy will provide you with advice on treating minor illnesses, e.g. coughs and colds or long term conditions such as arthritis or diabetes. This support may include medicines which you can buy over the counter from the pharmacy without a prescription.
  • Signposting people to other healthcare professionals: your pharmacy will provide you with contact details for additional help if needed from other healthcare professionals, social services or voluntary organisations.
  • Participation in set public health campaigns (to promote healthy lifestyles): providing you with advice on keeping healthy; this could be advice on healthy eating, stopping smoking and exercise. Local health promotion campaigns cover topics such as taking care in the sun and understanding the risks of long term conditions such as diabetes.
  • Disposal of unwanted medicines: if you have any medicines that you no longer use, you can take them to your local pharmacy for safe disposal.
  • Discharge Medicines Service (DMS): offering advice about newly prescribed medicines to people referred by NHS Trusts after discharge from hospital.
  • Clinical Governance: pharmacies must have a system to support the provision of excellent care, this includes using standard operating procedures, acting on drug safety alerts, and carrying out satisfaction surveys.

Advanced services are offered by most community pharmacies, but they are optional. These include:

  • New Medicine Service (NMS): providing support for people with long-term conditions who have been newly prescribed a medicine to help improve medicines adherence.
  • Flu Vaccination Service: administering NHS flu vaccinations to people in eligible groups.
  • NHS Blood Pressure Checking Service (also known as Hypertension Case-Finding): providing free NHS blood pressures checks to people aged 40 and over to help reduce their risk of heart and circulatory diseases.
  • Smoking Cessation Service: supporting people to continue treatment to stop smoking after being discharged from NHS hospitals – patients must be referred into this service by their NHS Trust.
  • NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS): connecting people with pharmacies for emergency supplies of medicines or for advice on minor conditions, following NHS 111 or GP referral.

Further resources on the CPCS aimed at GPs are available below, including a short animation.

CPCS: A guide for GPs

Infographic: GP referral pathway to the NHS CPCS

Locally commissioned services

Some pharmacies also offer others services to meet the needs of their local communities. These services are commissioned by local NHS England teams, Local Authorities and Integrated Care Systems (ICS). The local services on offer can vary around the country, but examples include services for minor ailments, sexual health, substance misuse, falls reduction, care homes, and weight management.

For local services available in your area, please speak to the Local Pharmaceutical Committees (LPCs). Find their contact details via the LPC websites portal.

Providing quality

In addition to these services, most pharmacies will take part in the Pharmacy Quality Scheme (PQS) which supports the delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan by rewarding community pharmacies for achieving set quality criteria in three dimensions: clinical effectiveness, patient safety and patient experience.