It may have only been a couple of months since the new funding package for England was formally introduced, but most contractors are already feeling its effects. The Pharmacist has uncovered the first comprehensive insight into how the cuts are biting – and it makes for depressing reading.
We can reveal that nearly 2,000 pharmacies are at risk of closure and 12,000 pharmacy workers could lose their jobs. This is, of course, pharmacists’ prediction, but it indicates a sector in dire despair.
When it comes to predicting closures, the Government has been burying its head in the sand. Last year, former pharmacy minister Alistair Burt predicted that between 1,000 and 3,000 English pharmacies could close as a result of the cuts, but he then backtracked.
The Department of Health’s impact assessment makes a number of calculations, with the ‘worst-case scenario’ that 1,000 are forced to close – then concludes that it ‘cannot know for certain how the market will react.’
It’s not surprising that the Government would make an attempt to slash £20bn off the NHS budget without assessing the real impact. And health secretary Jeremy Hunt has not held back about his intentions, making it clear he sees ‘clusters’ as a waste of NHS money.
But what is Hunt’s real strategy for pharmacy? Does he, as some critics suggest, want to see an end to community pharmacy? Our interview with NHS England’s heads of pharmacy (see the latest issue of The Pharmacist) suggests the Government is pushing for a more clinical profession. So will the sector only be used to prop up general practice?
For this issue, we show what Hunt’s legacy is likely to be. But it’s not set in stone. At a time when the whole NHS is reaching boiling point, my appeal to him would be to put pharmacists’ true value to good use. If he doesn’t, as one pharmacist we spoke to put it, his legacy will be that he had a resource that could have answered his problems, and didn’t even realise what it was.
The latest issue of The Pharmacist magazine is available now.