The Chancellor’s Spring Budget included an extension of the domestic energy price cap, £100m for charities and a £63m fund to help leisure centres and pools afford their energy bills – but no additional relief was outlined for pharmacies and other businesses beyond the previously announced Energy Bills Discount Scheme.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), described the measures as ‘baffling’.

‘Pharmacies provide an essential service for the NHS, yet they’re expected to swallow higher energy costs while others are given assistance. It’s baffling that we should be treated like this - and from a government led by a man whose own mother ran a pharmacy. It’s incredible,’ she told The Pharmacist.

Meanwhile Janet Morrison, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, described it as ‘particularly insulting’ that some organisations were being given help with energy bills, ‘but not our network of pharmacies’.

The Energy Bills Discount Scheme, which was announced in January, will provide all eligible businesses and other non-domestic energy users across the UK with a discount on high energy bills until 31 March 2024, following the end of the current Energy Bill Relief Scheme.

The Spring Budget also announced changes to VAT which would make services carried out under the supervision of a pharmacist and medicines dispensed under a PGD VAT-exempt – a move which sector leaders said could level the playing field when it comes to local commissioning.

But they said that these changes were a drop in the ocean compared to the overall crisis facing community pharmacy, describing the Budget as a missed opportunity to fund the sector.