Community pharmacy is used to playing the waiting game as far as Government decisions go. The years-long wait for the decriminalisation of accidental dispensing errors, for example, is a case in point of pharmacists having to wait far too long for changes that were promised long ago, but only materialised recently.
So I met the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) acknowledgement yesterday (8 March) that it hasn’t made any firm decisions about the fate of the Quality Payments Scheme (QPS) with a familiar sense of weary frustration.
It wasn’t just the lack of information about what a new round of the scheme will look like that had me rolling my eyes, but the DHSC’s inability (or unwillingness – who knows?) to give anything away about when it will be able to make an announcement.
As yet, the reason behind the radio silence remains a mystery. It seems lately that every other week, I’ve heard some new rumour floating around about a QPS announcement being just around the corner. But none of these hopeful whispers have come to pass, only adding to my growing annoyance with the Government’s apparent inertia towards pharmacy.
For I can’t help but feel that the old adage about no news being good news doesn’t quite hold water when it comes to the QPS. Let’s not forget that there was also a long wait for a new pharmacy contract before the notorious funding announcement of December 2015. In that case, all the sector’s patience was rewarded with was millions of pounds worth of funding cuts instead of the fair contract they had hoped for for so long.
I really don’t see that there’s that much for the DHSC to dither over when it comes to the QPS. The scheme was designed as a way to mitigate the cuts while encouraging community pharmacists to strut their clinical stuff, and it succeeded in its goal.
After all, what better way to encourage the uptake of great opportunities like Healthy Living Pharmacy (HLP) accreditation, one of the QPS criteria, than by offering financial incentives to cash strapped pharmacists? With the vast majority of the sector making a claim for meeting at least one of the criteria, the QPS certainly achieved its aims.
So why isn’t the Government champing at the bit to introduce a new round of the scheme with fresh objectives to meet? Just think of the possibilities. What about including the introduction of a minor ailments scheme, say? Or evidence of collaboration with local GPs?
But without more information from the DHSC to go on, my guesses as to what the criteria could involve remain just that – guesses. And in this age of uncertainty for the sector, pharmacists sure could do with something more concrete to go on. Time for the Government to make its mind up on QPS and stop stringing us all along.