Since 2020, England's Pharmacy Quality Scheme (PQS) has incentivised increased antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) activities in community pharmacy. In 2020/21, this included the requirement for staff to complete an AMS e-Learning module, pledge to be an Antibiotic Guardian and develop an AMS Action plan. To build and embed these initiatives, in 2021/22, the PQS required the use of the TARGET Antibiotic Checklist (an AMS tool for use when patients present with a prescription for antibiotics to support conducting and recording of a series of safety and appropriateness checks against each prescribed antibiotic). This paper describes the implementation of the national PQS criteria from 2020 to 2022, and details community pharmacies' AMS activities and barriers to implementation of the 2021/22 criteria. A total of 8374 community pharmacies submitted data collected using the TARGET Antibiotic Checklist for 213,105 prescriptions; 44% surpassed the required number for the PQS. Pharmacy teams reported checking the following: duration, dose, and appropriateness of antibiotics; patient allergies and medicine interactions (94-95%); antibiotic prescribing guideline adherence (89%); and the patient's previous use of antibiotics (81%). The prescriber was contacted for 1.3% of TARGET Antibiotic Checklists (2741), and the most common reasons for such contacts were related to dose, duration, and possible patient allergy. A total of 105 pharmacy staff responded to a follow-up questionnaire, which suggested that some AMS principles had been embedded into daily practice; however, the necessary time commitment was a barrier. The PQS was able to incentivise mass AMS activities at pace over consecutive years for England's community pharmacies simultaneously. Future research should monitor the continuation of activities and the wider impacts on primary care.
Keywords: antimicrobial resistance; antimicrobials; behavioural; community healthcare; community pharmacist; e-Learning; incentive; infections; pharmacy technicians; primary care; questionnaire.