Planned changes to hub and spoke dispensing 'will not release capacity' within the sector without increased funding for medicines supply, the Company Chemists' Association (CCA) has said today.

Hub and spoke dispensing between pharmacies owned by different legal entities will be allowed from 1 January 2025, subject to parliamentary approval, the government announced this morning as it published its response to its 2022 consultation on the issues.

The government plans to allow two models of hub and spoke dispensing: one in which the hub would directly supply the medicine to the patient, and one in which the medicine is sent back to the spoke pharmacy, which then supplies it to the patient.

Malcolm Harrison, CCA chief executive, said the 'long-awaited' publication of the consultation outcome was 'welcome', but warned: 'Given the huge upfront capital investment and ongoing operating costs of hub and spoke dispensing models, and the financial strain all pharmacy businesses are currently facing, we think it is unlikely the sector with be able to benefit from these changes.'

'We support the [Department of Health and Social Care's] intention to release clinical capacity in community pharmacy. Unfortunately, however, the proposed changes will not release any capacity unless the government’s funding for medicines supply is increased,' he added.

Mr Harrison also said the CCA was 'pleased' that the government had taken forward the proposals, 'but also taken on feedback from the sector through the consultation period'.

'The changes should allow new business models, without increasing the burden on existing processes or adding confusion to patients,' he said.

Concerns have also been raised about the impact of the planned changes on medicines supply.

In its long-term workforce plan published in June last year, NHS England (NHSE) estimated that the use of hub and spoke dispensing would increase by 2% a year, freeing up capacity within community pharmacy to deliver more clinical services.

But at the time, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) said that as well as legislative change, ‘significant investment’ would also be needed to make hub and spoke dispensing ‘financially viable’ for the whole sector.

And Health and Social Care Committee chair and former pharmacy minister Steve Brine told pharmacy contractors in November that he doubted that changes to hub and spoke legislation will be the answer to problems faced by independent community pharmacies.

Nine in 10 (89%) contractors surveyed for an ITV documentary six months ago said they had experienced months of dispensing at a loss, while 96% said they were concerned that their pharmacies were not financially viable.

And changes to price concessions arrangements earlier this month saw the government adjusting reimbursement and concessionary prices with the intention of recovering around £5.4m per month from the sector between April and June 2024.

In response, the community pharmacy negotiator said it was warning the government and the NHS that ‘putting further pressure on pharmacies to dispense at a loss will have very serious consequences for the sector, patients and the wider primary care system’.