As we approach the new year, pharmacist Ashley Cohen looks at what pharmacy teams have achieved in 2021 and what they now urgently need to thrive in 2022.

It has been a roller coaster couple of years, and pharmacy teams have remained right in the eye of the storm during the pandemic. The pharmacy landscape now is massively different from two years ago, and we have proved our agility and can-do attitude responding to the pandemic.

Now, our pharmacy leaders from across all organisations should come together to press government and HM Treasury to ensure that our efforts have not been in vain - and to future proof our sector moving forward.

Our response to date, alongside our open-door policy throughout the past 22 months, should be enough proof of the value we provide to our local communities:

  • The pandemic delivery service
  • Lateral flow test provision
  • Record flu vaccination numbers for the 21/22 season
  • 1,500 pharmacy sites providing significant vaccination numbers and offering local options to communities that have low uptakes or hard to reach communities.

Alongside the pandemic-related additional workload, we have seen expansion of our Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework workload:

  • Launch of a Discharge Medicines Service
  • GP Community Pharmacist Consultation service roll-out – this is patchy at present, but it is expanding quickly
  • Hypertension case finding service
  • Increased NMS eligibility.

Although extra services are welcome, they are still not sufficiently significant in volume or income to replace the prescription workload and income or enable the direction of travel to more clinical services.

For too long, we have had to maintain our services with no investment in our contract framework. NHSE&I and PSNC are starting to analyse the impact of the first three years into the 5-year framework, to look ahead to year 4 and to argue the cash for some discretionary increase.

Now more than ever do we need some additional uplift in year 4 otherwise pharmacy closures/mergers will continue. It can’t be coincidence that within the last month LloydsPharmacy group (including AAH and the digital platform LloydsDirect) have been sold, and there are rumours that Boots is also looking to sell its pharmacy stock. Whether this will allow those independent pharmacies or smaller chains to adapt and differentiate, only time will tell.

Here are some reasons why Year 4 must receive some uplift in contractual framework revenue.

  1. Since the funding cuts five years ago, the national living wage (NLW) has increased by about 30%. This has caused huge financial pressures on contractors to increase salaries in line with NLW. For 21/22, NLW is increasing by a further 6.6% to all those aged 23 and over. This has a knock-on effect to other trained and skilled staff and the difference between wage gaps has narrowed, as contractors have not had the resources to keep other staff pay increases in line with NLW percentage. This is causing some staff to consider if it worth working in this skilled environment under such pressures when higher amounts can be achieved in less pressured retail environments.
  2. An increase in the National Insurance rate in April 2022 will lead to contractors and employees having less money available due to the tax rise, which will again increase the financial pressure on contractors.
  3. Inflationary pressures will similarly squeeze contractor funds.  
  4. Other statutory responsibilities will continue to be present, such as pension contributions.
  5. Gas and electricity price rises over the coming months will have significant impact on pharmacy running costs.
  6. Investment in premises that have been ignored for several years may become critical.
  7. Locum rates have also increased, which is putting further financial pressures on pharmacy branches.

I am all in favour of ensuring all our pharmacy teams (including our locums who play an essential role in running our pharmacies). However, without any increase in national funding it is hard to pass these on to our teams. But workforce pressures could be relieved by investment from Treasury, as this would allow for increasing staffing costs, and to reward our well-deserved teams.

As pharmacy teams are now being asked to do so much more to support the booster campaign, it’s time for some of the bureaucracy and paperwork to be suspended in the pharmacy sector to support this rollout. On 13 December 2021, 185,000 out of the daily total of 418,000 boosters were given from pharmacy sites. So, I ask the question: if we can do 44% of the daily boosters utilising just 13% of the sector, imagine what we can deliver if all the pharmacy sector was utilised? Pharmacy teams can deliver 1 million boosters a day. This shows the agility, flexibility of our network and we should be so proud of the part we are playing.

While we reflect on this past 12 months, I am proud to be a pharmacist and to serve my local community. And it’s been a tough year personally and professionally, because of the immense strain it has day in day out. However, I could not be prouder of all my team, who have worked in difficult times with a smile on their faces (most of the time) and dedicating their time in helping others.

I hope you all mange to spend some quality time with your family and loved ones over the festive period. Decompress, switch off and recharge those batteries ready for 2022. I wish you all a happy and healthy new year.

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