Parliamentarians are calling for ‘urgent action to relieve funding pressure’ on local pharmacies and a plan to empower them to help with NHS backlogs.

A new report published today (23 January) by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Pharmacy has called for a new ‘strategic vision’ for pharmacies, warning that there is a very real risk that the opportunity to help with NHS backlogs will be lost because of significant funding and workforce pressures.

The recommendations in The Future of Pharmacy manifesto are based on evidence gathered from frontline pharmacists, GPs, professional bodies, patients and healthcare experts.

The APPG report calls for the government to take ‘urgent action’ to relieve funding pressures on the community pharmacy sector in the short term and review the long-term funding model for pharmacy.

In order to ‘harness the power of pharmacy to help the NHS deal with the Covid-19 backlog and the UK’s growing healthcare challenges’, the APPG said that the government should:

  • Commit to implementing an appropriately funded national pharmacy walk-in service for minor ailments, ‘which would free up capacity in general practice and be cost-effective for the NHS in the long term’.
  • Build on its current commitments to provide funded independent prescribing (IP) training for all existing pharmacists.
  • Commission clinical services through pharmacies, ensure such services are sustainably funded and ‘ensure regional commissioning of clinical services retains some degree of standardisation so that patients are not subject to ‘postcode lotteries’ of provision’.

It also said that the government must develop a long-term vision for the community pharmacy sector in England, urgently re-evaluate the workforce needs of the entire health and social care system, including pharmacy, and place community pharmacy at the ‘heart of decision making and policy development’ – including outlining how community pharmacy will be consulted during the development of Integrated Care Board plans.

One frontline pharmacist told the APPG: ‘The constant cuts to our funding, additional services and lack of the promised “dispensing efficiencies” have left us working on bare-minimum staffing levels.’

Another study warned the parliamentarians that several thousand English community pharmacies are likely to close during the next few years.

MP Taiwo Owatemi, chair of the APPG on Pharmacy, said: ‘There is a tremendous opportunity for ministers to empower local pharmacies to help even more patients and use their skills to support efforts to clear NHS backlogs. But right now, pharmacies are being squeezed by a combination of funding and workforce pressures.  People are often shocked to learn how many local pharmacies are lost each year due to financial pressure. If ever there was a time to properly fund and support our pharmacies, it is now.’

England chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Thorrun Govind, said that the report ‘rightly highlights the need to support a more ambitious approach to advancing the clinical role of pharmacists across the NHS to enhance patient care, including through the growing number of pharmacist independent prescribers’

She added: ‘Pharmacists and pharmacy teams will play a crucial role in supporting the NHS recovery, reducing health inequalities, managing the growing cost of long-term conditions, and delivering best value from medicines.

‘With continued pressure on the health service, it is vital that the pharmacy workforce is supported to keep looking after patients.’

The APPG report comes following the launch of a campaign by four leading national pharmacy bodies calling for fair NHS funding for pharmacies in England.

The Save Our Pharmacies campaign aims to highlight both the pressures that pharmacies are under and the huge untapped potential of the sector in the face of ‘chronic underfunding that threatens further pharmacy closures’.

The APPG report is set to be discussed at a parliamentary launch event later today (23 January).