Pharmacy: what people want

Our report, "Pharmacy: what people want", explores the current state of pharmacy services and offers actions for healthcare leaders and the wider sector.

The report dives into people’s experiences of and attitudes towards pharmacy services at the outset of Pharmacy First. 

It outlines opportunities for community pharmacies and the challenges the sector is facing as the role of pharmacists continues to expand. It also presents a comprehensive list of recommendations for the government, NHS England, Integrated Care Boards, the pharmacy sector, as well as local Healthwatch. 

The report is based on: 

  • A nationally representative poll of 1,650 adults in England, conducted by Yonder Data Solutions from November 20 to November 26, 2023.
  • Interviews undertaken by local Healthwatch. Each one interviewed two pharmacy users and a pharmacy member of staff. 

Key findings 

Drawing on the poll's results and the interviews, the report concludes that: 

  • Community pharmacies are very widely used, with 72% of people having used one in the past three months. 
  • Online pharmacies are much less used, with 18% using one in the past three months. 54% of people who have used an online pharmacy at some point said they would be likely to do so again. 
  • People value the accessibility of community pharmacies, both in terms of the ease of getting to one and the speed of being seen once there. 
  • There are positive signs for the success of Pharmacy First. People were already open to the idea of going to a pharmacy rather than a GP for the seven conditions before the service was launched and are open to the idea of seeing a pharmacist rather than a GP more generally. 
  • Pharmacy First faces some challenges. A small proportion of the population is less open to going to a pharmacy rather than a GP. This is due to their personal preference, while in some cases, due to a lack of awareness of the services pharmacies offer.   
  • More broadly, medicines shortages continue to affect patients. Almost one in four, 24%, have experienced shortages when trying to get medicine, and 42% have experienced problems getting medicine in general. This has led to patients having to play ‘pharmacy bingo’, going from one pharmacy to another to find the medication they need.
  • Closures are affecting patients access to pharmacy services. As well as pharmacies permanently closing, temporary closures are causing frustration. There is currently little transparency on temporary closures, nor information given to local residents when temporary closures occur. 
  • Although 90% of prescriptions in England are dispensed free of charge, the cost-of-living crisis impacts pharmacy usage, with five per cent of people saying they have avoided taking up one or more NHS prescriptions because of the price. 

“In this part of Haringey there is a lot of deprivation, what will people locally do? It has never been so bad; people struggle with £9.65 per item…This is for people who work.” 

Pharmacist, Haringey 

Recommendations at a glance 

The successful rollout of Pharmacy First will rely on addressing existing challenges facing pharmacy teams. It will also be important that patients know about the scheme, can access their local pharmacy, and are confident in the support local pharmacies can offer. 

Below is a summary of our recommendations, which are outlined in more detail in the report. 

In the short term, we are calling for: 

  • Targeted communications to raise awareness of the Pharmacy First scheme, building on existing campaign launched by NHS England in February 
  • Cost of living barriers to be addressed, including improvements to prescription prepayment certificates (PPCs). 
  • Government to review medication shortages and take action to keep people informed. 
  • Better communication of pharmacy closures and transparency on temporary closures. 
  • People with experience using pharmacy services to be involved in the national evaluation of Pharmacy First, including decision-making. 
  • More support to pharmacy teams, including improved IT systems, more funding, action on workforce shortages, and support with pharmacy premises. 


Longer term, we are calling for:  

  • Further expansion of Pharmacy First services, with evidence in this report that people would visit their pharmacy for vaccinations and dermatology services.  
  • A solution to ensure IT systems used across general practice, pharmacy, and broader primary care are interoperable. 

Thank you to the following organisations for supporting our work around pharmacy services: 

  • The Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England 
  • The General Pharmaceutical Council 
  • The National Pharmacy Association
  • Community Pharmacy England
  • Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK. 


Pharmacy: what people want


Pharmacy: what people want - large print 

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