NHS England was challenged on the effect of the pharmacy funding cuts on the rest of primary care at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing, held today (9 March).

Chair of the PAC and MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, Meg Hillier asked the board represented by senior NHS, Department of Health (DH) and Health Education England (HEE) figures about the threat of closure faced by independent pharmacies.

An NHS England director at the hearing pointed to the Pharmacy Access Scheme (PhAS) as a means of ensuring that patient access to community pharmacies is not affected by the cuts.

Hillier reported meeting with Councillor Peter Bales from Moorclose in Allerdale, Cumbria who told her that his constituents’ GP practice had lost four out of five GPs.

Despite the fact that three quarters of people in the area don’t have cars, the community pharmacy there is under threat, Hillier told the committee.

‘If you are trying to not have people going to A&E, then the role of a community pharmacy there it quite an issue,’ the chair said. ‘We know this is happening around the country.’

The pharmacy in question is the only one in Moorclose, Councillor Bales told The Pharmacist, and its recent establishment was the result of a hard fought battle. However, despite being greatly needed the owners now say they are at risk of closure due to the funding cuts.

Hillier asked the director of commissioning for NHS England, Rosamond Roughton (pictured above): ‘Have you factored in the changes to community pharmacies to the overall access that patients have to primary care?’

Roughton pointed to the PhAS as a potential aid for any pharmacy in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Hillier asked if NHS England is promoting the idea of independent prescribers to which Roughton responded that by bringing clinical pharmacists into general practice, the Government will be investing in such training and education to ‘maximise skills’.

‘My local pharmacy group tells me that a pharmacist could cost upwards of £60,000 to the GP practice and they say that for that sort of money you’d be able to get a lot more patients managed for long terms conditions by community pharmacists who are independent prescribers,’ Hillier put to the commissioning director.

Roughton responded by saying that pharmacy is ‘a profession that has not been as utilised as it could be, either by patients or by other staff in the NHS’ and that NHS England is ‘keen to shift that’.