Pharmacy leaders have urged the Government not to go back on its assurances to spend more time considering the proposed cuts to pharmacy funding, when it emerged that the cuts could be implemented within weeks.
The Department of Health sent a letter to pharmacy organisations this week, outlining its intentions to announce a funding package in mid-October, to be implemented from December, after just a brief period of negotiations to take into account the report commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers on ‘The value of community pharmacy’ and the pharmacy sector's ‘Community Pharmacy Forward View’.
The annoucement appears to conflict with assurances made by new pharmacy minister David Mowat at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) conference in Birmingham earlier this month, where he told delegates that the Government would “take time to make the correct decision” and would engage in an ongoing dialogue with the sector about the way forward before introducing the proposed cuts and efficiency savings.
Responding to the letter, National Pharmacy Association (NPA) chairman Ian Strachan said: “In what sense is a short stay of execution ‘taking the time to make the right decision’? How is a few weeks’ notice adequate time for the pharmacy sector to prepare for the changes? And in what sense is a brief negotiation behind closed doors the ongoing dialogue we were promised just days ago?"
Mr Strachan urged the minister to "take time to get things right for the sector, right for the NHS and right for patients and communities," and to be "open to a genuine dialogue with the sector about the way forward".
Rob Darracott, chief executive of Pharmacy Voice, remarked: “I am pleased that the campaign, alongside the Forward View and PWC report, has created a pause for reflection but, like others in the sector, I am concerned about the signals sent by the short time the Government has allowed itself to complete this second round of negotiations.
"If they are serious about the timetable in the letter, contractors could receive very little notice of contractual changes or new obligations, despite reassurances made by the previous Minister to Parliament that they would be given the time needed to prepare."
Sandra Gidley RPS England Board chair added that, while she was "heartened that the recently published 'Community Pharmacy Forward View' and PWC report have had impact," she was "concerned that the timetable means the time for further discussion is short".
Sue Sharpe, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) urged the Government to "take a new approach, informed by evidence of the value of the sector to the communities we support," and to "abandon the ill-informed and damaging proposals.”