The flat funding deal for community pharmacy represents a 25% funding cut for the sector, a report has warned, calling it an ‘existential threat’ that could impact patient care.
The independent report, undertaken by Professors David Taylor of University College London and Panos Kanavos of the London School of Economics and Political Science and commissioned by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), described the flat pharmacy funding deal as a ‘cut’ in real terms and said it would be 25% higher if adjusted for inflation.
Professor Taylor, who is director of pharmacy and pathology at the Maudsley Hospital and professor of psychopharmacology at King’s College London, described the funding deal as ‘an existential threat to NHS community pharmacy in England’, which would impact patient care.
Speaking at a press briefing today, Professor Taylor said: ‘Obviously community pharmacists have their own legitimate needs. But our interest is primarily the public interest and the development of appropriate NHS services.
‘It's not special pleading for pharmacy at a time when we're all under pressure with the economic situation. It's about how we develop as well as possible the future of UK primary care.’
Advocating for a patient-focused plan for pharmacies, Professor Taylor emphasised the value of people having a personal, community-based connection to a local pharmacy, contrasting this with the decline in numbers of GP practices and people having a named family doctor.
‘At the moment, if we got a partial collapse in the pharmacy network, that would disrupt medicine supply and it could increase inequalities. Community pharmacies are much more evenly spread across the country than GP practices for example, in poorer areas,’ said Professor Taylor.
According to an NPA-commissioned opinion poll, 60% of people said that they would have to visit their GP more frequently if their local pharmacy closed.
Professors Taylor and Kanavos’ report highlighted that ‘Covid 19 allowed community pharmacists and their colleagues to demonstrate their value to the public and generate confidence and trust’.
Professor Taylor added that the ‘tragedy’ of real-term cuts to pharmacy funding would be ‘the missing out on the future development of better and more accessible care’.
In May, King Charles III – then Prince Charles - praised pharmacies for their work during the pandemic, saying: ‘As well as providing prompt access to advice and treatment, of course, the great thing is you are also a friendly and reassuring presence in our communities.
Professor Taylor said England could learn from the Pharmacy First scheme in Scotland and Wales – a minor ailments service delivered by community pharmacies – as well as other examples from around the world.
He also said that the increasing numbers of independent prescribers (IPs), with all new pharmacy graduates from 2026 qualified as IPs, gave grounds for long-term optimism.
‘I would think as we get more prescribing pharmacists available in the community setting, [a scheme like Pharmacy First] is the sort of service I personally believe should be taken forward,’ Professor Taylor told The Pharmacist.
A Pharmacy First or minor ailments scheme has previously been proposed in England, but was not included within the most recent Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) agreement.
Professor Taylor did welcome the independent economic review agreed in the recent CPCF arrangements, which the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee said that it believes ‘will demonstrate the scope and scale of the unsustainable pressures on the sector' ahead of the next contractual framework agreement.
Professor Taylor said that reviews ‘in the past have been a sort of accountancy review’, but that a ‘real economic review would be to investigate those issues in more depth: take the evidence, look at the overall costs and benefits and really try to address the way forward in new ways’.
‘We did a limited amount of work, which hopefully adds to a why and adds to the public debate. But now we've got the opportunity to do further real development work,’ he added.
Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the NPA, said: ‘Inflationary pressures are depleting the already limited funds provided by the NHS for pharmacy services. Our members are facing a cost-of-doing-business crisis that is standing in the way of service improvements and ultimately threatens pharmacy closures on a disastrous scale.
‘By asking two distinguished academics to examine the extent of this emergency, we now have independently-compiled data that we hope will underpin realistic financial settlements for pharmacies that sustain vital health services.’