National Association of Primary Care (NAPC) president Ash Soni has said that amid pharmacy closures, the future of community pharmacy lies in clinical services.

Speaking to The Pharmacist, he said that community pharmacies were struggling to survive and that he was ‘really worried’ about an ‘unmanaged’ attrition rate of pharmacy closures.

However, he suggested that clinical services could help pharmacies survive because they were more profitable than dispensing.

He said that in his pharmacy, which runs several vaccination programmes, clinical services make up around 20% of his business while dispensing accounts for the remaining 80%. ‘But that 20% is probably more profitable than that 80%,’ he said.

‘At the end of the day, what you have in your capability, in your brain and in your knowledge is always going be more valuable than sticking pills in the box,’ he said.

He added that with advances in dispensing technology, a pharmacist’s clinical knowledge was more likely to attract investment in the form of NHS commissioned services.

‘From a commissioning perspective, from a government perspective, why would I pay you X to do this when I can pay Amazon 20 pence to do it?’ he said.

He added that a pharmacists’ time was better spent talking to patients about their medications. ‘What we have to see is that move towards being paid for your brain, your knowledge, rather than what someone else can do,’ he said.

Earlier this month, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer for England, Dr Bruce Warner, said that the upcoming independent financial review of pharmacies would be used to build a business case for pharmacies to provide clinical services.

Mr Soni said that community pharmacies could begin demonstrating the value of clinical services by undertaking services already within the funding package, and that this could be used to build a case for more funding in the future.

He added that dispensing remained a key part of community pharmacy but shouldn’t be its sole focus.

‘I don't believe that dispensing should move away from community pharmacy. But dispensing becomes the function of the other things that you do, the clinical services you provide, rather than the point at which you start,’ he said.

‘You can't have a system where effectively people are dispensing a loss – that's unacceptable under any circumstances. But what you have to do is see the investment into the services that support clinical care and improve patient outcomes,’ he added.

Mr Soni said that his role as the NAPC’s first pharmacist president would enable him to understand and highlight the opportunities for pharmacy to meet healthcare needs within their local communities, which could then be invested in and supported by Integrated Care Systems (ICSs).

In particular, he called for increased collaboration between community pharmacies and GPs as well as joined-up digital solutions.

The NAPC focuses on patient and population health within ‘neighbourhoods’, a concept highlighted by the Fuller stocktake report which was released in May and outlined how community pharmacy could take a ‘more active role' in urgent care and prevention.