The government and NHS England has today announced a £645m investment in community pharmacy, to go towards the existing NHS Pharmacy Contraception and Hypertension Case-Finding services as well as a brand new Pharmacy First common conditions scheme.

But while the pharmacy sector has largely welcomed the additional investment and the opportunity to provide more patient services, many questioned whether it would be enough to fill the gaps in community pharmacy funding that has grown over recent years.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) said that ‘any measures to deliver patient care with a less cumbersome, less time consuming and easier bureaucratic burden will be welcomed by pharmacy teams [across] the length and breadth of the country’.

But she added: ‘The reality remains that there is currently a shortfall of £1.1bn in pharmacy funding every year and rising, and many pharmacies are struggling to pay the ever-increasing prices of medicines, the higher general costs of doing business and managing greater workforce challenges.

‘Because around 90% of community pharmacy income is from providing services to the NHS, pharmacies, unlike other businesses, are not able to pass on their increased costs to patients and customers by increasing prices, consequently many are operating at a loss.’

While the government’s primacy care recovery plan was ‘a step in the right direction’, Dr Hannbeck stressed ‘more needs to be done to address the funding crisis, workforce challenges and medicines supply issues that have brought pharmacies to their knees, causing more and more pharmacies to sadly close their doors permanently’.

Meanwhile, Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said that he hoped that the new funding ‘signals a better understanding both in government and NHS England about the value pharmacies bring to the health service’.

‘If so, it could have long-term significance and set us back on track for a sustainable, clinically-focused future, after years of decline,’ he said.

He added that the announcement ‘appears to be a momentous development, which has the potential to radically change the outlook for our sector, as well as benefiting patients’. Though he noted that the association would ‘want to look carefully at the details’.

Janet Morrison, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said that it was ‘not yet clear the extent to which this investment will be enough’ to help the sector through the ever-increasing pressures faced by contractors, and added that PSNC would continue negotiations for the next community pharmacy contractual framework (CPCF) ‘at pace’ alongside further discussion on the details of the new service.

However, she said that PSNC hoped to be able to build on the investment in services to ensure 'an ambitious future for pharmacies and the communities they serve’.

‘It is now clear that ministers recognise the value that pharmacies can offer and the services we can provide if we are put on a sustainable footing, and we will be looking to build on that positivity through our ongoing vision and strategy work. A financially supported community pharmacy sector can do so much more,’ she said.

The new £645m investment is set to be split between funding the existing NHS Pharmacy Contraception and Hypertension Case-Finding services, the new national Pharmacy First scheme and investment in IT services to give pharmacies greater access to patient notes.

Last year, PSNC chief executive Janet Morrison told The Pharmacist that a Pharmacy First service would need an annual £350-£400m funding package.

But the £645m will be split over two years, which won't cover the amount PSNC estimated would be needed to fund Pharmacy First each year, even without the additional investment sector leaders say is needed in existing services and to cover increased operational costs.

PSNC said that the allocation of the funding would be subject to further discussions.

In addition, health regulatory lawyer Andrea James called the announcement ‘good news’ in a social media post on Twitter this morning, but added: ‘Let's be clear that the £645m which the government will now be putting into community pharmacy is less than the sum stripped from pharmacy funding since 2016 (That's over £900m between 2016 cuts, five-year funding envelope and inflation).’

In January, the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) suggested that community pharmacy is experiencing an annual shortfall in funding of over £750m, following the disclosure of data in parliament.

And a recent survey from the NPA found that 92% of independent contractors saw a dispensing loss for at least one month of the year, while nearly half (48%) said that they had lost money through dispensing for six months or more.