Chief pharmacist: NHSE can’t judge if there are too many pharmacies

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Chief pharmacist: NHSE can’t judge if there are too many pharmacies

By Arthur Walsh

NHS policy makers are not in a position to judge whether there are too many community pharmacies in England, chief pharmaceutical officer David Webb has told Pharmacy Network News. 

Speaking at the Clinical Pharmacy Congress last Friday (May 13), Mr Webb told PNN: “I don’t know how we would make that judgement [on the number of pharmacies needed].

“I think the future is a clinical pharmacy future, and I think everything I’ve seen points to the need to have those clinical professionals in their community and accessible.

“I don’t think those simply stack up into a numbers argument. The short answer is that I don’t think we can make that judgement." 

In his keynote address at the conference last Friday, Mr Webb said community pharmacies are an “essential part” of NHS England & Improvement’s “vision” for integrated care systems.

“It’s hugely positive to see the growing confidence everyone has in community pharmacy,” he said, pointing to the growth in GP referrals to pharmacies and the role independent prescribers are expected to play in the sector in the near future.

Mr Webb’s comments may signal a departure from the perceived attitude of his predecessor, Keith Ridge, who in 2018 was reported as suggesting that England may have 3,000 more pharmacies than it needed.

In a 2015 letter to then PSNC chief executive Sue Sharpe outlining plans for major funding cuts to the sector, Mr Ridge said 40 per cent of pharmacies are in ‘clusters’, adding: “In some parts of the country there are more pharmacies than are necessary to maintain good access.” 

Since the community pharmacy global sum was reduced in 2016, net closure rates have not yet been as dramatic as some feared initially.  

However, the pressures of the pandemic have exacerbated the funding difficulties faced by many contractors, leading to an uptick in yearly net pharmacy closures.

The NHS BSA said in its October 2021 pharmacy services report that in 2020-21 there were 11,600 active community pharmacy contracts, a five-year low and a 2.5 per cent drop from 2015-16 when there were 11,900 active contracts.

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