Almost half (47%) of pharmacy owners have said that they could have to close in the coming year, according to an inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Pharmacy.
A survey of 1,604 pharmacy professionals carried out as part of the inquiry found a quarter (25%) felt it was ‘somewhat likely’ they would shut next year due to the financial pressures they currently face, while 11% said it was ‘likely’ and another 11% said it was ‘very likely’.
The flash inquiry also found that the majority (95%) of respondents felt their place of work was under financial pressure and more than three quarters (79%) said that the £370m advance funding given to pharmacies by the Government during the pandemic – and which may still have to be paid back – had not been enough to mitigate cashflow issues.
The MP group launched the inquiry on 17 November to investigate how the pandemic has affected pharmacies’ ability to provide vital services to their communities.
Evidence collected showed the pharmacy sector is being pushed to breaking point because of ‘unprecedented operational and financial pressures’, the APPG said, warning that both small and large pharmacies in England face ‘irreparable damage’ without urgent support.
‘The current funding levels – a five-year contract at fixed, flat funding – are in urgent need of review because pharmacies are being asked to do more to earn their income on less,’ it added.
Testing and PPE
Pharmacy professionals also raised concerns about access to asymptomatic Covid testing in the survey, with eight in 10 (80%) survey respondents saying they did not have access to this.
Many respondents also reported that they were unsure ‘how or where’ this could be accessed, or if it was even an option for pharmacies, the APPG report said.
On 9 November, NHS England said that community pharmacy teams were among the NHS workers who would become eligible for a bi-weekly Covid-19 test the following week.
The survey also found that one in 10 pharmacy professionals had not been able to access appropriate PPE during the pandemic. Where PPE was accessible, almost two thirds (65%) said it was provided by their employer, while a quarter (24%) said it was supplied by the NHS.
‘Respondents noted with concern that pharmacy, despite being a core part of healthcare, appeared to have been considered an afterthought’ in PPE provision, the report said.
The APPG made a number of recommendations, including that the Government:
- Write off the £370m advance payments as an immediate way of providing relief to the sector and consider boosting overall funding in recognition of the financial pressures faced by pharmacies and the ‘huge contribution’ they have made during the pandemic.
- Consult and take action to empower pharmacists to do more by providing more training resources, particularly training more independent prescribers and commissioning services that enable them to put their skills to best use.
- Reassess the value of pharmacy at both the heart of Government and within finance teams in the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England.
Jackie Doyle-Price, chair of the APPG, said: ‘The public rightly recognise pharmacy teams continue to lift heaven and earth to remain open and ensure the safe supply of medicines during the pandemic. But people would be shocked to hear that unprecedented financial pressure is now pushing many pharmacies to close.
‘The innovations and adaptations quickly put in place by pharmacy teams demonstrate the unique skills pharmacists have to do even more. It would be a crying shame if the Government did not seize on this opportunity to unleash the potential of pharmacy.’
Claire Anderson, chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board, said it was ‘crucial’ to maintain a resilient community pharmacy network and that the APPG report showed ‘just how important it is that pharmacists get the help they need’.
She added: ‘We continue to back calls for sustainable funding in community pharmacy and greater support for pharmacists’ wellbeing wherever they may work. We also need to look ahead to how the NHS can make the most of pharmacists’ clinical skills and build on the positive steps to commission new services.
‘Pharmacist have gone above and beyond during COVID-19 and the pandemic has highlighted how enabling clinical autonomy and professional responsibility is the right thing for patients. With appropriate support from policymakers, including in investment in training and education, pharmacists will be central to enhancing patient care and safety for the NHS.’