Plans for women to get contraceptive pills and implants direct from their local pharmacy have hit a stumbling block as pharmacists warn they are close to breaking point and cannot support the new service.
The NHS Pharmacy Contraception Service (PCS) would provide an "accessible and convenient" way for people to receive advice and support with their birth control.
It would mean women could access contraception (excluding intrauterine devices) without first having to see a doctor.
The move would also "relieve the burden on general practice and allow GPs to concentrate on more specialist services", the NHS England website said.
The Department for Health and Social Care had previously announced the first tier of the service would start on Monday this week – something the sector says was "imposed, not agreed".
Pharmacies have now paused plans for the rollout, criticising the government for not putting more funding into the service.
Day Lewis, one of the largest independent retail pharmacy chains in Europe, has said it will not be launching the service – despite spending £100,000 in locum backfill to train its staff – and accused NHS England of forcing it to "ration services" to patients.
"All our pharmacists are now trained," it said in a statement.
"However, we will not be launching the service until progress is made with pharmacy funding.
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"Day Lewis have always been keen and proactive to deliver pharmacy services, but the current model where pharmacies are asked to do more for less, and services coming from the existing global sum is unsustainable and cannot continue.
"As a family business it’s distressing that NHSE has forced us to ration services to a few patients so that we can continue to support our critically ill and chronic patients, whose lives depend on us."
‘Everyone will be a loser’
Thorrun Govind, a pharmacist and chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, told Sky News that while the service will make good use of their skills, pharmacists are already under huge pressure.
"Many are at breaking point. Adding more pressure isn’t sustainable. We don’t shy away from calling that out," she said.
The most recent workforce wellbeing survey from the RPS found 73% of pharmacists and their staff are considering leaving their role, or the profession entirely – while 88% are at high risk of burnout.
Ms Govind added: "For this new NHS contraception service to be a success, the rollout must be backed and enabled by appropriate extra government funding and technology to allow pharmacists the time and space to deliver great care to patients and the public.
"We want these barriers to be overcome so all women can access NHS contraception services through pharmacy."
The National Pharmacy Association said: "This could, in future, be a great new pharmacy service, but not without the increase in funding necessary to deliver it safely and effectively. We cannot direct pharmacy owners what they can and can’t do.
"But we can tell them the facts…
"Fact #1 is that, with no new funding currently available, everyone will be a loser from the implementation of this service on the current terms."
Sky News has contacted the Department for Health and Social Care for comment.
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