Just £2m of a £40m scheme to integrate community pharmacy into the wider NHS has been confirmed to have been spent.

Pharmacy minister Steve Brine revealed that £2m of the £42m Pharmacy Integration Fund (PhIF) – earmarked for 2016-18 – was spent last financial year in a letter to All-party Pharmacy Group (APPG) chair Kevin Barron.

Ministers will only know the extent of this financial year’s PhIF spending in March 2018, Mr Brine wrote in the letter, dated yesterday (November 28).

NHS England will announce PhIF funding for 2017-18 ‘in due course’, he added.

Last week, England's chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge said that community pharmacists were 'unlikely' to receive the entire £42m fund in time.

‘Significant progress’

Mr Brine wrote in the letter: ‘This [PhIF] funding has resulted in significant progress on initial programmes to deploy pharmacists in wider primary care settings to carry out medicines optimisation and to relieve the pressures on GP practices and hospital admissions.

‘Additionally, initial training and development programmes with hundreds of places fro community pharmacy have been produced with Health Education England to ensure participants receive the tailored support they need, many of which will commence in early 2018.

NHS England is also piloting integrated models of care that will increasingly “channel shift” patients with minor ailments to community pharmacy, while NHS Digital is also moving at a forward pace with improvements to digital maturity and the use of technology with regard to pharmacy and medicines.

‘PhIF 2018/19 budgeting will be subject to NHS England’s usual business planning process and will be announced in due course.’

The full letter can be read here.

Calls for clarity

Mr Brine’s letter received a mixed reaction from the sector.

APPG chair Kevin Barron said the group was ‘grateful’ for the correspondence, but called for ‘clarity’ around PhIF funding.

He said: ‘There is still no clarity over how much has been spent so far in this financial year, and only £2m of the total of £42m allocated for 2016-18 was spent last year. We also don’t yet have an indication of the PhIF budget for next year, which is only four months away.

‘We therefore continue to have questions about how this Fund is being and will be used, and the extent to which it can provide meaningful impetus for new services which we all agree that we wish to see community pharmacy provide.’

‘Deeply disappointing’

Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) English Pharmacy Board chair Sandra Gidley expressed ‘great concern’ about the ambiguity surrounding how much of the PhIF has or has not been spent.

She said: ‘This news is deeply disappointing and it is of great concern that no one appears to know how public money is being spent - or not spent.

‘I believe Steve Brine when he says he wants to reset the relationship with community pharmacy and if he is serious about this, he must demand specific answers to the questions he was asked.

‘We already know what, in principle, the Integration Fund has been spent on but we do not know the precise amounts. The politicians at the All-Party group wanted to know how much of the fund has been spent and that information simply has not been provided.

'I would urge the Minister not to accept excuses from his officials and hope that he presses to obtain the information we all very much to see. We have already seen an erosion of the fund and recent events raise questions about how secure funding is for next year. The profession needs urgent reassurance on this.’