A Conservative Lord has criticised the amount of funding the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has made available to community pharmacies in England during the Covid-19 crisis.
Speaking in the House of Lords via video call yesterday (21 July), Lord Grade of Yarmouth, an English television executive and businessman, said it was ‘totally unrealistic’ for the department to expect the amount it has given to the sector to be enough.
Lord Grade said: ‘This [funding] is nowhere near enough to keep [community pharmacies] in business let alone to give pharmacists a day off or allow them to make a living’.
The fact that the DHSC thinks the established funding is enough ‘demonstrates how the department fails to understand why pharmacies are in such great peril,’ he added.
Threat to pharmacies
Lord Grade had asked Lord Bethell, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care how the department is ensuring that independent pharmacies can support the communities in which they are based.
Lord Bethell said: ‘We have made available £370 million pounds in advanced cash payments to aid cash flow, providing funding for the medicine delivery service for shielded patients and increased drug reimbursement prices and we are talking to the sector about additional funding for Covid-19 costs.’
Lord Grade urged Lord Bethell to ‘meet with the delegation of these frontline heroes to hear why their businesses hold by a thread, because when they fold they won’t be replaced.’
Clinical role of pharmacists
Later at the hearing, Baroness Wheeler asked Lord Bethell what plans the Government has to expand the clinical role of pharmacists and what steps it is taking to ensure pharmacists are more integrated within primary care.
In response, Lord Bethell pointed to the community pharmacy contractual framework, which he said has ‘downplayed some services that were not offering value for money, but has enhanced some that have made a huge impact‘, many of which ‘are of a clinical nature’.
He added: ‘The settlement also includes a transitional payment, which helps secure the financial situation of the pharmacy sector.
‘We couldn’t be more committed to the community pharmacy sector and the future of healthcare in this country will, I believe, depend much more on pharmacists delivering the kind of services the noble baroness outlined,’ he said.
More financial support
The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said that Lord Bethell’s response did ‘not go far enough,’ and that more financial support was needed for pharmacies to deliver these services and reach their full potential.
This comes after the health secretary Matt Hancock suggested earlier this month that 20 million GP appointments could be referred to community pharmacies each year, as more clinical services begin to take place in pharmacies post Covid-19.
Mr Hancock said that there was ‘much more’ pharmacy could do when it came to clinical services to ‘reduce pressures on other parts of the health and social care system’, in an address at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) conference (13 July).
He commented: ‘For example, I’m keen to see people with minor illnesses referred to community pharmacy to take the pressure off GPs and, crucially, deliver a better service.
‘Some of these new rollouts of these clinical services have been paused due to Covid-19. But take the commitment from me that pause is temporary and is for a short period as possible.
‘I look forward to the continued rollout of more and more clinical services, with the goal that all pharmacists should be operating at the top of their qualifications at the top of their licence.’
Last week, the health secretary announced that he will be ‘expanding who can legally vaccinate’ to ensure technicians, nurses and pharmacists can administer the future Covid-19 vaccine.
Pharmacists in the UK will play a ‘massive role’ in the nationwide rollout of the vaccine, Mr Hancock said.