Pharmacies that were not selected to offer the Covid vaccine service are now suffering financially as the cost of living continues to rise, The Pharmacist has learned.

As of this week, 13% (1,606) of all community pharmacies in England had been commissioned by NHS England and Improvement to deliver the programme.

Contractors offering the service have previously told The Pharmacist that the money made from the vaccine service has worked as a buffer against inflation and rising costs.

With only a minority of pharmacies commissioned to deliver the programme, those not picked to offer the services now reveal just how much they have lost out financially and that some have even considered selling their pharmacy as a result.

‘How is this fair?’

Amish Patel, who runs Hodgson Pharmacy in Kent, is one of the many contractors not selected to offer the vaccine service.

He told The Pharmacist last week (22 April) he is now considering selling his pharmacy, adding that he feels lost out from not offering the service and ‘disillusioned’ with the sector.

‘I know pharmacies that have made £3m in under 18 months from the vaccine programme alone. Whereas contractors like me made nothing - how is this fair?’ he said.

He continued: ‘The hard work we have to undertake doesn’t match up with the income, I’m so disillusioned with the sector it makes me want to leave.

‘If we had been picked to offer a Covid clinic, the financial reward would have matched the amount of effort put in – I’m sure if.

Lack of funding

Mr Patel said he would not be considering the idea of selling his pharmacy if he had been offered a vaccine contract.

‘I just must be logical here. The pharmacy is not sustainable the way it currently is. On top of that, I’m stressed about the next few years for pharmacy, especially with the lack of funding uplift and inflation.

PSNC has already warned contractors that the sector will not likely see any additional funding as part of the CPCF for the two remaining years of the deal.

And in an exclusive interview with The Pharmacist last month, the chief executive of PSNC warned that without any funding uplift, pharmacies in England would face more closures, reduced opening hours and many could be forced to opt out of advanced services.

‘I have my own family to feed, what income am I meant to take home after I’ve paid my staff more?’ added Mr Patel.

He said the ‘only reason’ he can pay his staff and stay afloat despite the dwindling profile margins is because of the advanced services and private clinics he runs.

‘I’m seriously considering selling up and starting a private healthcare clinic that offers cosmetic procedures,’ he said.

‘Kick in the teeth’

For Adeel Sarwar, the owner of Roundhay Pharmacy in Leeds, it was a ‘kick in the teeth’ when his pharmacy was denied a contract.

‘We were perfectly placed to offer the service and the demand was there,’ he explained.

As it stands, Mr Sarwar’s pharmacy is now struggling financially due to inflationary pressures.

‘Without a shadow of a doubt we’d be hugely better off if we had been offered a vaccine contract,’ he explained. ‘Our team are already trained up to offer vaccines and we were so keen to help out our community,’

‘The next few months, even years, are going to be awful,’ he claimed.

The contractor said he was surprised that pharmacies weren’t more involved in the rollout of the vaccine.

‘As a sector we’ve been encouraged to embrace more clinical services. This vaccine rollout would have been a great opportunity to do that. Yet, only a handful of pharmacies were actually contracted.'

In 2020, the previous chief pharmaceutical officer at NHS England, Keith Ridge, predicted a more ‘clinical future’ for pharmacy post Covid-19.

‘It’s such a shame more pharmacies weren’t offered the chance to offer this clinical service,’ added Mr Sawar.

‘Unlike many other services, it's so well funding and would have put so many pharmacies, who are now in very tough financial situations because of the pandemic, in much better positions.

‘Vaccine contract saved my pharmacy’

Susan Bargh, who owns Abbey Pharmacy in Rotherham, was in the process of selling her pharmacy after its finances plummeted during the pandemic.

The city centre pharmacy was badly hit by the pandemic as footfall fell drastically during lockdown. Ms Bargh said the pharmacy lots of customers to online pharmacies, who never returned.

However, in October 2021, the pharmacy was offered a Covid vaccine clinic contract which Ms Bargh said was a ‘saving grace’.

‘The service completely saved the pharmacy,’ she said. ‘It helped plug a huge financial hole, and not only that but it brought the pharmacy back to life again.

‘It gave our staff purpose, raised our profile in the community and helped people see pharmacy in a better light,’ she explained.