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Interview: PSNC ‘shares contractor frustrations’ says Dukes

PSNC chief executive Simon Dukes

In a pharmacy trade press exclusive, PSNC chief Simon Dukes has spoken of his frustration at what he described as slow decision making by the NHS on funding and PPE since the coronavirus pandemic broke and said the negotiator hopes for a “positive outcome” from funding talks in the coming weeks.

Mr Dukes told Pharmacy Magazine last Thursday (April 9): “We’ve been just as frustrated as contractors by some of the late NHS England & Improvement decision-making and communications on key topics.”

Examples have included the long-awaited pandemic delivery service, details of which were only announced last Friday, and NHSE&I agreeing at the last minute to offer a bank holiday premium after PSNC persuaded them to take a “more pragmatic approach”.

Asked whether this indicated community pharmacy is an afterthought for NHS policy makers, he acknowledged there is “more to do to persuade the NHS of pharmacy's importance and value.”

However, he hoped PSNC’s intensive talks during the Covid-19 crisis with Government and NHS officials would help smooth the way for more collaborative future discussions.

He added that other primary care sectors are “encountering the same problems” and that sluggish progress has “often… reflected the complexity of the discussions and the rate at which NHSE&I has been able to make decisions”.

Mr Dukes said PSNC’s immediate priorities were to secure additional funding over and above the global sum and to drive home the need for all pharmacies to have adequate PPE; the latter point is being raised with officials “on a daily basis”.

‘Hope for funding in the coming weeks’

Asked whether a £300m cash injection would provide adequate cashflow support when Scottish pharmacies have received a proportionally larger advance, he said: “We put a strong case to the minister about this and £300m was the maximum that the Government was prepared to give at this point.

“We hope it will be enough to help many contractors with their bills over the next two months, but a loan is not enough.”

PSNC is “in active negotiations” and would be working with other organisations such as the NPA over Easter to compile evidence on the necessity for extra funding, he said on April 9, adding that talks with pharmacy minister Jo Churchill have become increasingly frequent.

“We hope [negotiations] will have a positive outcome in the coming week or so. Much of this is behind closed doors but our silence on the detail should never be mistaken for inaction.” The negotiator planned to do more advocacy via national media, he added.

Asked if he was surprised when initial pleas for new funding met with resistance, given some of the Treasury’s spending decisions since the pandemic hit the UK, Mr Dukes said: “Our negotiations are with NHSE&I and with DHSC officials, rather than with the Treasury directly.”

While HM Government “has been quick to offer its support for the NHS”, individual departments are “often playing catch-up with the logistics”, he said.

‘Exceptional’ work of pharmacy teams

Pharmacy Magazine asked Mr Dukes if he was hopeful the strenuous efforts of pharmacy teams during the pandemic could lead to greater recognition for the sector. He said the “efforts and achievements of pharmacies” have been “hugely impressive” and that PSNC planned to use examples of this as an evidence base in future talks.

“We know that most pharmacies have never before seen demand like this, and this has been a real challenge for all businesses.”

He summed up his one key message for the community pharmacy workforce: “Thank you for everything you and your teams are doing and the risks you are taking on the front line to help patients and our country through this national crisis. The work you are doing at this stressful and busy time is exceptional.

“At PSNC we share your frustration about the slowness of the NHS to provide you with extra support, but my team and I also share an absolute determination to get recognition and reward for community pharmacy.”

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