More than eight in ten adults would support more investment in community pharmacies, a survey has found, while three-quarters think the flat funding for the sector is unfair.

The poll, carried out on behalf of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) between 26 and 30 August, found 85% of the 1,001 adults in England surveyed would support additional funding for community pharmacies if helped to improve access to NHS services.

Meanwhile, 74% of those surveyed thought that it was unfair that community pharmacies in England have had no increase in funding for eight years, despite rising business costs.

When asked how fair they thought it was that pharmacies in England are now paid less for providing NHS services than they were before the Covid-19 pandemic, 8% called it ‘fair’, 32% said it was ‘unfair’ and 49% found it ‘extremely unfair’.

Last week, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) chief executive described the fixed-rate five year settlement as a decline in real terms, which was “really starting to bite” as COVID emergency funding came to an end.

Although the PSNC began negotiating the 2022/23 funding deal with the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and NHS Improvement in February, government approval is currently delayed by a cabinet reshuffle following the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation in July.

In January, PSNC said that the pharmacy sector will not see additional funding as part of the CPCF for the two remaining years of the deal.

Discount deduction and margin

The survey, which was carried out for NPA by Research Without Barriers, also asked whether it’s fair that pharmacies are ‘paid less by the NHS for prescription medicines than at the cost at which they buy them’.

Of the respondents to this question, 29% described this as ‘unfair’ while 52% said that they found this ‘extremely unfair’.

Yesterday, the PSNC announced new arrangements agreed with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to change the way that discount deductions are applied, with appliances, branded medicines and generics each to have separate fixed deduction rates.

These changes will come into effect on a transitional basis between October 2022 and January 2024. The PSNC said that contractors should expect some changes in margin as a result, but argued the overall rate will be fairer across the sector.

In response to the survey, Andrew Lane, Chair of the National Pharmacy Association, said: ‘The public, with its collective sense of fair play, can see there is no natural justice in the current funding arrangements, which are strangling pharmacy finances and threaten thousands of family-owned businesses with closure.

‘It’s not just the overall under-investment that is the problem, although that by itself is crippling. Contractual mechanisms based on averages and reconciled retrospectively make effective planning difficult and especially disadvantage smaller pharmacy businesses. The system is inherently unfair and needs urgent reform.’

In April, the NPA described inflationary pressures on pharmacies as a ‘cost of doing business crisis’ and called for NHS England to intervene.