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Insight: I feel like toast but better times ahead?


Insight: I feel like toast but better times ahead?

With the Government having imposed a new set of utterly reckless regulatory requirements on the sector, morale has never been lower. The announcement of new investment in community pharmacy will do well to redress this sorry state of affairs...

As I finished writing this column, the news came through that the Government has committed to a £645m investment in community pharmacy in England over the next two years to support a new pharmacy common conditions service, along with the NHS contraception and hypertension case-finding schemes. 

Good news? Well, the pharmacy bodies certainly seem to think so. The devil will be in the detail but let’s hope it is as positive as the headlines suggest – because we are on the brink. 

What we cannot end up with is a situation where, new money or not, we don’t have the resources to provide the new services properly. We have seen many contractors – myself included – make the perfectly legitimate decision not to provide the contraception service. An under-resourced common conditions service would be even worse.

I don’t know about you but I haven’t got the capacity to provide dozens of extra consultations a day. Yet should this service fail, then all bets for the future of community pharmacy are off.


Meanwhile, the sector’s huge structural problems remain. My pharmacy has had two pharmacists bugger off to PCN-land within 24 hours of each other, which is utterly demoralising given the amount of resource we have invested to support and develop them. This isn’t a tale of an evil employer screwing pharmacist employees with low staffing levels, poor support and expecting them to run prescription factories. 

“They don't want to work weekends and can't really be bothered to provide services”

We have really good staff numbers (which is killing us financially), great support and a nurturing environment, but that’s not enough.   

There is a whole sub-group of pharmacists who don’t want to work weekends, can’t really be bothered to provide services and don’t appreciate – yet – that the grass is not necessarily any greener on the other side. 

I can see these pharmacists eventually being sidelined within the larger GP practice teams, with the volume of their output questioned. Not straightaway, as ARRS is funding these placements, but sooner or later practices will be asked to put their hands into their own pockets – and then we’ll find out what they really value.

100-hour catastrophe

Elsewhere, the reduction in minimum opening hours for 100-hour pharmacies is a huge blow to contractors running 40-hour contracts who have been given no regulatory easements to make the current chickenfeed contract more workable. Alongside this, the National Living Wage has increased again, interest rates will certainly rise again, and energy costs remain a concern. It’s so, so tough. And with 100-hour contracts now 72-hour contracts, which will shave around four hours off their working day – a huge boon to supermarket pharmacies who overwhelmingly operate a 100-hour model – the financial savings could be around £60,000 each for these pharmacies if they currently operate, as many do, using locums. 

A precedent has also been set so that any time NHSE is feeling the pressure on pharmacy closures, they can reduce the opening hours of these (former) 100-hour contracts. They might lose a little out-of-hours cover, but this is better than commissioning extra provision from existing contractors, who not only have zero goodwill towards the NHS, but are struggling under the vacuum created by the ARRS scheme. 

So, notwithstanding the £645m announcement, how do I feel? Back-to-back bank holidays certainly don’t help, but I feel like toast. Smoking, black bits of toast. There is nothing left to give. 

What do you think about the £645m investment announced by the Government? Email 

*Alexander Humphries is the pen name of a practising community pharmacist. The views in this article are not necessarily those of Pharmacy Magazine

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