Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt ‘consciously withheld material information’ during the consultation process over the pharmacy funding cuts from the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), a court heard today (22 May).
Alison Foster QC, representing PSNC, also told the Court of Appeal that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) was expecting ‘significant resistance’ from the sector but ‘intended that the reforms would be imposed and take place willy-nilly’.
PSNC and the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) are currently seeking to overturn a High Court judge’s decision to uphold the Government’s cuts to pharmacy funding.
The Court of Appeal will hear cases from the NPA and PSNC and the hearing is expected to last at least two days.
Failure to adequately inform
Ms Foster continued: ‘The secretary of state failed to inform himself adequately as to the impact of the proposals on the sector.
‘This non-disclosure was the more egregious, given that on numerous occasions PSNC actually requested sight of such information, only to be told that it did not exist.
‘To compound matters, certain key information was only disclosed after the decision was made public.’
However, James Eadie QC, representing the DHSC, argued that the ‘package of interlinked measures’ were aimed at ensuring that NHS resources are ‘directed in an efficient manner – whilst ensuring that patients' ability to access pharmacies is protected’ – and that the new Pharmacy Access Scheme (PhAS) would result in ‘topping up' the income of the pharmacies deemed to be most important for patient access.
He continued: ‘The consultation was a two-way dynamic process and the DHSC had made it clear from the outset that it would be interested in receiving more evidence on business impacts and was looking to PSNC to provide that evidence.’
‘Inadequate and unreliable’
According to Ms Foster, Mr Hunt had himself acknowledged that the information available to him was ‘inadequate and unreliable’.
In July 2015, the DHSC had a ‘secret meeting’ with an unidentified ‘industry insider’, she told the court, of which PSNC wasn’t made aware either at the time of the meeting or during the consultation process.
‘The Secretary of State could not lawfully proceed on the basis of the limited information available, particularly in light of the serious ramifications of the proposed funding cuts’, said Ms Foster.
The hearing continues and the court is expected to reserve its decision until a later date.