Community pharmacy bodies appeal for urgent investment
Community pharmacy’s national bodies, together with the four largest pharmacy chains in England, have issued their most direct warning yet of the urgent need for investment in the sector.
In a letter to secretary of state for health and social care Steve Barclay today, the bodies have warned that permanent closures among the the country's 11,000+ pharmacies are likely and medicines supply at risk if no urgent action is taken.
The letter from the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, the Company Chemists Association, the National Pharmacy Association, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee as well as Boots UK Lloydspharmacy, Well and Phoenix UK warns that the 30 per cent real terms funding cuts that pharmacies have faced over the past seven years have left many businesses in a cashflow crisis. Urgent investment is now needed to help the sector to re-build capacity and sustainability. It says community pharmacy has ambitions to help support the wider NHS and patients, including through a fully funded Pharmacy First service.
If the funding situation is not addressed, the sector is likely to move rapidly towards many permanent closures of pharmacies. The organisations say that once these closures start, they will be hard to stop, as the sector is now so fragile other pharmacies would struggle to pick up the slack. However, if the secretary of state chose investment, pharmacies can do much to deliver cost-effective solutions for patients and the NHS more widely.
In comments issued alongside the letter, PSNC chief executive Janet Morrison said: "Many community pharmacies are now struggling to survive and it could soon have very serious consequences for patients. Government now faces a choice about community pharmacy’s future. We believe that what is right for pharmacies is right for patients and right for the wider NHS.”
“It is not just hospitals and GPs that are under pressure, it’s our pharmacies as well," Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of AIM said. "The secretary of state must act urgently as our sector is coming under so much pressure in all sorts of ways that we simply cannot continue like this. Pharmacies are struggling to keep their heads above the water as they are simply struggling to pay their bills. If the secretary of state and NHS decision makers want that accessible care to continue to be there for vulnerable patients then they must act with urgency.”
CCA chief executive Malcolm Harrison said: “Not investing in the sector will mean the continued erosion of service, and ultimately the permanent closure of many more community pharmacies, which will add to the already pressurised health system.” NPA chair Andrew Lane said: "We are showing the Health Secretary that we are united in our determination to take the right route – one that unlocks the full potential of community pharmacy and helps support the NHS more widely.”
The full text of the letter reads:
"As the collective representatives of NHS community pharmacies and the largest pharmacy operators in England, we write to assure you that as a sector we share your ambition for community pharmacies to deliver more support and clinical services for patients. Building on the agility, pace and efficiency we demonstrated during the pandemic, we are keen to deliver better support for patients and reduce pressure on NHS services. A good starting point would be a fully funded ‘Pharmacy First’ service, creating a vital front door to the NHS for patients and alleviating pressure on GP practices and A&E departments. But pharmacies could also be offering a wider range of services that support medicine optimisation, long term conditions, prevention and health inequalities. We would be delighted to discuss any of these ideas and develop them with you.
"However, as a sector we are now at a fork in the road. We believe that you need to make a critical choice about the role you want pharmacies to play. The long term attrition of 30% real term funding cuts over the past 7 years is now leading to serious degradation of services to patients. Many pharmacies are now dispensing at a loss and facing a serious cashflow crisis which we fear if not addressed, will rapidly move towards many permanent closures. We fear that once they start, closures will be hard to stop, as the sector is now so fragile other pharmacies would struggle to pick up the slack. We are deeply concerned that this will put medicine supply at risk – with serious consequences for the millions of people who rely on dispensed prescriptions every year.
"As pharmacy operators who are passionately committed to our patients we are asking you to make an urgent investment in our sector to help re-build capacity and sustainability and enable us to fulfil our potential to deliver more accessible and trusted services to patients. Further funding would be an investment in a highly efficient sector that can deliver cost-effective solutions for patients at pace.
We would very much like to meet to discuss what is needed to ensure that this vital sector can continue to deliver core services for patients and if we are properly resourced, move quickly to help support the NHS more widely.