What do widespread practice closures mean for pharmacists?


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By Beth Kennedy
Editor in chief

31 May 2019

GP practices are closing with alarming regularity. So how will pharmacists be affected, asks The Pharmacist’s editor-in-chief Beth Kennedy

It’s well-known that the dire financial circumstances community pharmacy finds itself in have led to fears of closure. Back in 2017, The Pharmacist revealed that, extrapolating the results of a survey of 156 pharmacists, 2,000 pharmacies were at risk of closure due to funding cuts.

It seems that community pharmacy is not the only part of primary care to suffer from closures. Today (31 May), an investigation by The Pharmacist’s sister magazine Pulse showed that GP survey closures have increased almost eight-fold in six years. To wit, in 2018 alone, 138 practices shut down – affecting some 519,500 patients.

The biggest question that springs to mind is what that means for community pharmacists. Since the NHS Long-Term Plan was published in January, the Government has been pretty clear that its plans for the sector hinge largely on working more closely with other primary care providers, with an emphasis on stronger ties than ever between pharmacy and general practice.

That’s all well and good in theory. But positive working relationships between these beleaguered professions will be rather difficult to achieve if a) there are dwindling numbers of practices and pharmacies to pick up the slack and b) the worrying lack of morale in both sectors continues to fall, increasing the tension and subsequent likelihood of animosity between them.

Something has clearly gone very wrong in primary care, and my hunch is that, as ever, money has a large part to play. In this age of increasing long-term conditions and over-stretched hospital teams, surely the preventative healthcare that community pharmacy excels in providing is even more important than ever. It beggars belief that the 2016 community pharmacy contract was expected to result in up to 3,000 pharmacy closures across England, such was the funding drop it dealt.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) is still in discussions with the Government about community pharmacy’s next funding deal, so here’s hoping that they’re able to secure a better deal for the sector in the years to come.

In the meantime, though, it’s prudent for pharmacists to shore themselves up in any way that they can. We’ve repeatedly been told that the future of the service will be service-led, so why not brush up on how you can maximise  revenue from your business’s services?

The old adage goes that there’s safety in numbers. With the emergence of Primary Care Networks (PCNs) later this year, it’s imperative that pharmacists get involved by reaching out to their local GP practices. There may historically be no love lost between pharmacists and GPs, but as Pulse’s investigation has shown, the professions have more in common that they think. It’s time to concentrate on the common ground and work towards securing the best service possible in the future.


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