The Department of Health’s funding reduction imposed on community pharmacies, and the consultation relating to it, were not unlawful and cannot be quashed, the High Court has ruled. However, the judge considering the case, Mr Justice Collins, said on May 18 that he had made his decision “with some regret”.
PSNC and the NPA had both brought judicial reviews of the Secretary of State’s decision to impose the funding cuts, and the cases were heard in a joint hearing in March.
The judge admitted that the cuts “will inevitably produce some hardships for individual pharmacies” and for some people who use them. “But that cannot mean that in times of the need for some retrenchment no cuts can be made.” Moreover, the DH had given “detailed and careful consideration” to the way in which the cuts can be made.
Mr Justice Collins said it was “unfortunate” that the goodwill that existed between PSNC and DH had been lost.
There was also “undoubtedly blame to be placed” on the DH for failing to provide the analysis which it used to arrive at an estimated operating margin for pharmacies of around 15 per cent, which featured in its impact assessment of the cuts. The judge described the exercise to establish the operating profits of pharmacies as “less than satisfactory”.
He had “no doubt” that the Government’s reforms were expected to mean that some closures would occur, with clustered pharmacies the target.
Mr Justice Collins also referred to the “inaccurate” letter from Chancellor Philip Hammond sent to the Prime Minister on August 11, which stated that the Government spends £2.8bn dispensing around £7.2bn of medicines. This was “not an accurate statement since it fails to have regard to the services beyond the dispensing of drugs which are provided by pharmacies”, the judge said.
Judge Justice Collins recognised that there was “a real risk” that the cuts could reduce patient access to pharmacies if opening hours are reduced and that some services such as free delivery may have to stop. “The concern that there will be pressure on GPs in deprived areas where they are scarcer and on A&E units in hospitals is a real one.”