Cuts to English pharmacy funding could have a ‘painful impact on thousands of people’ and should be ‘thwarted as soon as possible’, according to a peer in the House of Lords.

Lord Hunt expressed his concerns over the funding cuts for 2016/18 during a debate on the role of community pharmacies in the House of Lords on 19 October.

He said: ‘My concern is that the cutbacks or reforms will have a painful impact on thousands of people and therefore need to be thwarted as soon as possible.

‘It is rather short-sighted to undermine a profession that can give so much to patients and relieve some of the pressure on a system that, overall, is really suffering at the moment.’

In response, Lord O’Shaughenessy, the Parliamentary under secretary of state at the Department of Health, said that the Government acknowledged pharmacies’ cash flow problems – but denied the funding cuts have led to some closures.

Pharmacy has ‘huge potential’

During the debate, Lord Hunt also underlined the social benefits of community pharmacies, such as the flu vaccination service.

He said: ‘Last year community pharmacies provided 950,000 flu vaccinations. There is a reason for this: it is very convenient. You can go into a pharmacy and have it immediately.

‘Already this year, community pharmacies have given out 500,000 flu vaccinations—a figure that could double by December.

‘It is just one example of community pharmacies’ huge potential. They could do more — much more — if they were fully engaged in the kind of planning we need to see at local level,’ he said.

In 2015, a PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis commissioned by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) revealed that pharmacies contributed to a value of £3 billion in England, including £1.1 billion in cash savings for the NHS.

Pharmacies have been forced to take measures to cope with the cuts, such as making their staff redundant or reducing their services. As we move into winter, many pharmacy contractors fear that the financial strain will grow.

‘Modern approach to pharmacy’

In response to Lord Hunt’s remarks, Lord O’Shaughenessy said: ‘The department is working with the trade body and pharmacies to look at this issue which results from some specific changes.

‘I can reaffirm and reassure all noble Lords about the Government’s commitment to delivering a modern approach to community pharmacy — one that promotes efficiency and the best use of NHS resources while maintaining access to quality services and good patient outcome.’

The Government will review its regulations on 31 March 2018, with another meeting taking place later this month to show current findings.