The government’s response to its consultation into hub and spoke dispensing is currently being finalised and will be published ‘as soon as possible’, pharmacy minister Dame Andrea Leadsom has said.
But in response, community pharmacy chain Rowlands Pharmacy warned the government’s ongoing ‘dithering and delay’ on the issue was exacerbating financial instability in the sector.
The consultation, launched in March last year, proposed to allow community pharmacies to use hub-and-spoke dispensing across separate businesses, with the intention of allowing pharmacists to spend less time on dispensing and more time on patient-facing services.
In answer to a written parliamentary question from Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans, Dame Andrea said that the government was ‘committed to pursuing legislative changes to level the playing field and enable all community pharmacies to make use of hub and spoke dispensing arrangements’.
‘We consulted on this last year and are currently finalising a response to the consultation, with our aim being to publish this as soon as possible,’ she added.
But Nigel Swift, managing director of Rowlands Pharmacy, said in a statement today that there was ‘continued dithering and delay introducing hub and spoke regulations’.
He warned that this was ‘significantly harming the ability of community pharmacy to invest in the future of the network and make necessary commercial decisions in the interests of patients and the NHS’.
‘After all these months, we still do not have clarity about what models will be allowed,’ he said.
And he added that this ‘should be a cause for concern for ministers’.
Mr Swift also highlighted the context of ongoing pressures impacting the sector.
‘Back in 2022, the government in England stated that hub and spoke would deliver cost efficiencies and allow pharmacy staff more time to deliver patient services,’ he said.
‘What we have seen in reality, is declining real-term funding and increasing workload, but no changes to supervision or hub and spoke regulation.’
Mr Swift added: ‘In effect, we are expected to do more for less at a time when there is a workforce recruitment/retention crisis. This is not acceptable.
‘The government needs to join the dots together and deliver a coherent plan for our sector in the years ahead.’
And he questioned why increased costs such as the national living wage increase were not reflected in the core funding for community pharmacy in England.
In its long term workforce plan, NHS England (NHSE) estimated that the use of hub and spoke dispensing would increase by 2% a year, freeing up capacity within community pharmacy to deliver more clinical services.
But Community Pharmacy England (CPE) said that as well as legislative change, ‘significant investment’ would also be needed to make hub and spoke dispensing ‘financially viable’ for the whole sector.
Former pharmacy minister Steve Brine recently said he ‘doubts very much’ that changes to hub and spoke legislation will be the answer to problems faced by independent community pharmacies.