Is ‘it could have been worse’ really good enough when it comes to the pharmacy contract?


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By Beth Kennedy
Editor-in-chief

23 Oct 2018

Should pharmacists be grateful that the Government didn’t cut funding further in the latest contract negotiations or is it time to fight back, asks The Pharmacist’s editor-in-chief Beth Kennedy

 

The prevailing mood in the air since the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) announced a largely unchanged contract for 2018/19 yesterday has been one of frustration.

In breaking the news, PSNC was quick to acknowledge that the sector was likely to be ‘disappointed’ by the announcement. But was at pains to point out that no extra funding was a vast improvement on a further £33m cut, which, it said, could easily have been the outcome of its negotiations with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

‘Let’s be thankful,’ it seemed to shrug. ‘It could have been worse.’

And yes, it could have been. After almost three years of a very acrimonious relationship with community pharmacy – largely due to the fallout from the last contract – the DHSC could certainly have stuck the boot in and reduced the sector’s funding further still.

But is ‘it could have been worse’ really enough? Is it really enough for a sector that has, for so many interminable years, been expected to provide the same high level of service while operating on substantially less money?

After the toughest period in living memory for many contractors, is it fair to expect them to limp on with the same paltry amount of funding, which falls well short of supporting the service-based future the Government purports to see for the sector?

Well, no. It’s not.

At the Pharmacy Show earlier this month (7 October), PSNC’s chief executive Simon Dukes came out swinging, saying that pharmacy was ‘not going to roll over as a sector.’ Yet in accepting such an unsatisfactory deal with the DHSC, isn’t that arguably exactly what has happened?

Perhaps Mr Dukes’ preferred tactic is to play the long game, as he also told delegates at the Pharmacy Show: ‘We still have to influence, [come forward] with ideas and push back where we need to, but it’s about collaborating with the Government to try and reach some sort of agreed outcomes.’

That’s all well and good, but without tangible evidence that the DHSC will be more favourable to pharmacy in the next round of negotiations, what guarantees are there that the sector’s funding will ever change for the better?

While PSNC must be the one to grapple with such a difficult question, contractors are going to have to continue being as resourceful and resilient as they have so often proved they are in recent years. Pharmacies’ bottom lines are not going to boost themselves and so, once again, it will fall to pharmacists to come up with innovative ways of making money, be that investing in clinical services or finding new and untapped ways to save on spending.

As ever, The Pharmacist will be here to support you every step of the way, whether that’s bringing you inspiring stories of how other pharmacists have overcome adversity or advising you on how to set up lucrative new services.

But for now, here’s everything you need to know about the new contract. Together we can overcome the latest funding blow.

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