distance analytics to and between pharmacies

Protecting patient access to community pharmacy services

The Pharmacy Access Scheme (PhAS) aims to ensure that a baseline level of patient access to NHS community pharmaceutical services in England is protected. Our geospatial team was engaged by the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to support implementation by delivering updated distance analytics to and between pharmacies.


Everyone needs access to a pharmacy within their local area, where they can get healthcare products, collect prescription medications, and seek health advice. Coupled with the need to make better-informed decisions about funding community-based pharmacies throughout England, the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England & Improvement (NHSEI) sought our help.


In England, there are over 11,600 community pharmacies located where people live, shop and work. Further, in a 20-minute walk, 85% of the population can access a community pharmacy, 99% in the most deprived areas. How do we ensure equitable access to pharmacies is assured across England? Our challenge was to create updated distance analytics that are consistent across the country enabling accurate, informed and cost-effective decisions to protect public access to community pharmacies.


We used the ArcGIS platform, our geographic information system, to create an authoritative dataset of geolocated pharmacies in England and conducted a walking distance analysis to help the DHSC and NHSE/I determine the eligibility status of each pharmacy for government funding via the PhAS. 

One of the determinants for eligibility of a given pharmacy for the financial payments provided by the scheme is its distance from neighbouring pharmacies. We carried out the travel analysis to inform this element of the eligibility assessment, providing a suite of tools to enable individual pharmacies to understand the analysis applied to their circumstances. 

We also provided a portal with related tools to manage reviews for those pharmacies that were entitled to a re-evaluation where they felt derived eligibility distances were not accurately determined for their circumstances. Through engagement and dialogue with DHSC and NHSEI we have created a new innovative and repeatable geospatial solution/approach to the PhAS eligibility evaluation process. This now gives greater visualisation and scrutiny for both DHSC and pharmacy contractors wishing to check their eligibility.


As a result of this work, DHSC were presented with analytical outputs based on the most recent baseline data, configured in a repeatable analysis process and transparently visible to all the scheme’s stakeholders. The integrated online routing visualisation tool for nearest pharmacies helped pharmacies to understand how their eligibility status for accessing government funding was determined. The robust and defensible process which is consistent across the country enables more accurate, informed and cost-effective decision making, helping protect public access to local community pharmacies through the Pharmacy Access Scheme.

In addition to this, a key component was the development of a transparent and open review process for pharmacists to engage with the results from the access tool. Providing a standardised review process ensures equitability for the end-user and streamlines communications for the customer, by reducing the number of unnecessary appeals that need to be processed by NHS England and DHSC. Involving services providers in this way promotes an open and honest dialogue between providers and the NHSE regional teams resulting in an enriched pharmaceutical services dataset with first-hand knowledge feeding into updates, which would otherwise not be accessible on a national scale. The outcome is an authoritative, up-to-date dataset which can be used to better reflect the landscape of national pharmacies. This ensures that the DHSC is better equipped with the correct knowledge to deliver a more effective primary care infrastructure.

SCW geospatial team has been a very professional and responsive team and a pleasure to work with. The team have supported us to implement a robust and transparent appeals process for the Pharmacy Access Scheme. The Pharmacy Access Scheme was introduced by the Department of Health and Social Care to provide government funding to eligible pharmacies; in order to protect patient access to essential NHS community pharmacy services. NHS England and Improvement are responsible for managing the appeals process for the scheme, to provide a right of appeal for pharmacy contractors in relation to agreed criteria. 

The geospatial team have worked with us to design and develop a portal, which acts as an application process for community pharmacy contractors to lodge an appeal and a management system for NHS England and Improvement Pharmacy Contract teams to process applications. The geospatial team also provided distance mapping support and committee reports to support decision-making processes. The team has enabled us to deliver a robust and transparent appeals process for community pharmacy contractors; and the portal has delivered a streamlined and largely automated process. We have found the team to provide excellent ongoing communications, including weekly updates on progress and issues requiring our action; and being highly responsive to queries or support needs.

Overall, this led to an efficient process and contributed to consistent decision making, supporting appropriate access to the Pharmacy Access Scheme - Stephen Riley, Senior Policy Lead, NHS England and NHS Improvement


The Pharmacy Access Scheme (PhAS) is a core part of the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework for 2019/20 to 2023/24.

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