Day 1 – Tuesday 21 March 23, 2017

Government plans to slash more than £320m off the community pharmacy budget could lead to the closure of up to 3,000 pharmacies.

But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's cuts are now under fierce attack at the High Court as a ‘coarse attempt’ to re-shape the entire pharmacy sector.

The cuts came into effect on 1 March and were introduced ‘without even basic fairness’ or any regard to pharmacists' livelihoods, a judge was told.

The judicial review challenge to the cuts is being spearheaded by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), with the backing of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA).

‘Significant sorrow’

But the Department of Health is fighting the case every inch of the way.

Alison Foster QC, for the PSNC, told judge Mr Justice Collins that the body acknowledges the need to reduce NHS budgets and its complaints ‘are not a rail against cuts’.

She said it was ‘a matter of significant sorrow’ that the PSNC's previously cordial relationship with the Department of Health had broken down over the issue.

But she told the court: ‘There has been serious consultation unfairness and the process followed is unlawful.’

Given the huge consequences of the cuts for thousands of small businesses, they should only have followed ‘a model of negotiation’, she said.

Mr Hunt owed a duty to deal with the issue ‘with heightened fairness, but did not do so with even basic fairness’, the QC added.

Small community pharmacies give face-to-face advice to the public and Miss Foster argued that the cuts may ultimately put further strain on the NHS.

‘People who can't get to a pharmacy quite often go to their GP instead’, she observed.

The network of small pharmacies, populated largely by small family businesses, was ‘the most vulnerable part of the NHS to the withdrawal of payments’.

Unprecedented cuts

And Miss Foster told the court: ‘We are talking, without drama, of livelihoods being at stake’.

Thousands of pharmacists around the country had been left with uncertain futures ‘and compensation may or may not be agreed’, she added.

‘The PSNC is very, very concerned that this does not go ahead in its current form...those who are hardest hit are at the very bottom of the food chain.’

Describing the cuts as ‘unprecedented’, Miss Foster said they had also taken effect ‘in an extraordinarily short timescale’, giving pharmacists no fair chance to react.

The cuts amounted to an ‘irreversible step towards complete re-shaping of the sector without proper debate or analysis.’

They went far beyond ‘tweaking the system’ and ran the risk of ‘cutting out a whole tranche, maybe a quarter of the sector’, the QC said.

‘This is a coarse attempt to reshape at the expense of livelihoods.’

The Court will hear later from James Eadie QC, representing the Secretary of State for Health, and David Lock QC, for the NPA

See here for a summary of day 2 of the case.

Se here for a summary of day 3 of the case.