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Editor’s view: Stirrings from Sheffield

Pharmacy’s reimbursement system is finished. Urgent reform is needed or more businesses will bite the dust, says PM editor Richard Thomas.

I don’t usually make a habit of directing readers to the Daily Mail but I’m going to make an exception in the case of an excellent article by John Naish published on September 4. This well researched, powerfully written piece shone a light on pharmacy’s worsening funding crisis by profiling Sheffield stalwart Martin Bennett’s famous Wicker Pharmacy. It made for grim reading.

The journalist, no doubt prompted by Martin, picked up on the atorvastatin shortages and the amount of money Wicker had lost through the vagaries of Tariff pricing – £873 in a single month (July) – starkly highlighting to a wider audience what pharmacy contractors have known for some time: the reimbursement system is broken. Kaputt. Finished. 

Trouble is, nobody seems inclined to fix it. There was a consultation on reimbursement reform back in July 2019, but nothing much seems to have happened since then. There were the discount deduction changes and a price concessions review is ongoing – and that’s about it, although the word on the street is that discussions between CPE and DHSC have intensified as the five-year deal draws painfully to a close. It’s complex work, yes, but where’s the urgency?

The truth is that meaningful change is unlikely before the next election, although some in the sector are hopeful of an emergency cash injection. We shall see. It is certainly desperately needed for hard-pressed contractors operating at a loss. 

One thing is certain: fiddling around the edges is no longer enough. Major reform is needed. How about clearly identifying what the community pharmacy of the future should look like and designing a reimbursement system that’s fair and sufficient around that?

Richard Thomas is a pharmacist and editor of Pharmacy Magazine

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