NHS Employers has published new guidance this week to help primary care trusts in England develop better quality pharmaceutical needs assessments (PNAs) and provide a solid framework to shape the more efficient delivery of pharmaceutical services across the nation.

All PCTs are required to produce PNAs - first introduced in 2004 in preparation for the new community pharmacy contractual framework, which basically created a platform to enable trusts and pharmacies to work more together more closely - to help improve and prioritise the commissioning of pharmacy services, including the supply of medicines and patient advice/information.

In addition, PNAs can also highlight areas of unmet need in particular regions for which additional services, such as the Medicines Use Review, may be required alongside the traditional, essential ones provided by every UK pharmacy, and so are considered a valuable tool in creating high quality services that are tailored to local needs.

Although PCTs have been producing PNAs since 2004/05, last year’s Pharmacy White Paper essentially ordered an improvement in the quality of PNAs during 2009/10, and this year’s Health Bill also contains new proposals to govern their content. Furthermore, NHS Employers claims there has been “considerable variation in [their] scope and quality”, and that some have not been updated or renewed in response to changing circumstances.

So to address these factors and the growing need for excellence in commissioning pharmacy services, NHS Employers has developed this new guidance - which includes advice for PCTs on identifying local needs and mapping current provision - in the hope that it will help to raise the quality of PNAs and therefore drive higher service standards.

“We know PCTs want to commission high quality services to meet the needs of local people”, and Developing pharmaceutical needs assessments: A practical guide is aimed at making it easier for PCTs to do this, explained Felicity Cox, chair of the NHS Employers pharmacy negotiating team. “Whilst it is not intended to be prescriptive, it provides a good framework and will help PCTs to start thinking about the kind of things that the new legislation will require them to do,” she added.