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Insight: Questions about multiples' choices


Insight: Questions about multiples' choices

You don’t need me to tell you that finances are dire across the whole of community pharmacy. You only need to walk into a branch of a national multiple (if it is open) to see bare shelves and too few staff, and sense the cloud of gloom hanging over the place...

The same can’t be said of the regional multiples, who are taking maximum advantage of the misfortune of others to buy pharmacies on the relative cheap, left, right and centre.

I don’t blame them for this but I do wonder whether it is sensible for companies to load up on extra debt at a time when funding remains so constrained.

The message that it sends out to Government is also misleading. Ministers don’t care that these pharmacies are being sold for pennies in the pound; they see only that someone has enough money and confidence to buy them. My reckoning is that amidst the fire sales there will be plenty of pharmacy closures – and that these closures won’t necessarily be where the NHS expects or wants them to be.

This has to be a wake-up call for those asleep at the wheel at DHSC and NHS England. A national pharmacy chain is being dismantled in real time in front of our very eyes. Dark days indeed.

Public health fee fiasco

This month I was so incensed by the lack of understanding, care and respect from our local public health team that I wrote to the director of public health at the council. 

We were being asked to accept the same fees for our public health services as for the last 10 years since they moved under local authority control. We now lose money on every smoking cessation consultation, every EHC consultation and, if we had any, probably every supervised methadone consumption as well. 

I told the director that were it not for our sense of duty to provide these services, as there would be no alternative provision that our patients could access due to a lack of public transport, we would be withdrawing as we could no longer afford to subsidise them.

“This was tone deaf at a time when we are having to subsidise the cost of these services”

To his credit, I had a response back within an hour empathising with my situation, but saying that there was no money to support providers as all of the authority’s budget increase actually came to less than its staff pay rise. I know what he was trying to say, but this was tone deaf when we are having to subsidise the cost of these services.
He did promise to look more closely at fees for next year, but it will be the same old story again.

If we were to look at rebasing the cost of these services, our fees would be at least double what they are now. Pharmacy takes up only a tiny part of the overall public health budget so I’ve got little sympathy because it is our services which actually help people rather than a leaflet that only ends up in recycling. 

Business as usual? Not a chance

Next on my hit list was my local head of primary care (we’re part of that – who knew?) because I was suitably buoyed up by the relative success of my first missive. I detailed the madness of returning the Covid vaccination service back to pharmacy, because the powers-that-be have declared that it is part of ‘business as usual’.

Well, if your business is anything like ours, it is anything but usual right now. We are dealing with the impact of the ongoing primary care access crisis, inadequate funding, workforce shortages and public expectations at an all-time high, but people also spoiling for a fight half the time. 

In an average month I have to check one item every 30 seconds in order to meet the overall prescription volume requirement, and that is without talking to patients or performing any other services. If I add even a quarter of the
Covid vaccinations that were provided through our off-site clinic, I would have to check 30 items every minute. Needless to say, I had no response to my second missive...

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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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