A petition protesting against the proposed £170m community pharmacy cuts has won the support of almost 11,000 people to date.
The campaign followed the revelation by the Department of Health (DH) in a letter to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) on 17 December 2015.
We caught up with the author of the petition and chair of Barnsley Local Pharmaceutical Committee (LPC), Paul Mason, to find out exactly what he thinks about the cuts.
Q: What prompted you to set up the petition online over and above anyone else?
I was having a Twitter debate with some colleagues just before Christmas and the idea of the petition popped up.
Given I have been on the LPC for a while I thought why the heck not, let’s just start one.
We often complain in pharmacy that nobody does anything and that all comes from nobody putting their hand up and saying “I’ll do it”.
Q: In the petition you mention the need for the community pharmacy network to be “secure and strong”. Can you elaborate on what you anticipate the consequences of funding cuts will be for the network?
There’s a wide variety of contractors throughout the pharmacy network, from small, independent contractors up to the big boys like Boots and Lloyds and everything in between.
Each pharmacy has its own business model and the cuts will impact some providers more than others.
Essentially there will be a 12% cut in funding between October and March.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that it is a significant enough cut to threaten the viability of some pharmacies.
That could result in pharmacies closing or pharmacies having to reduce the amount of staffing they have in place to make ends meet.
If that happens that means there will be a lack of provision in some areas or pharmacies may end up operating with fewer staff, which may affect the quality and safety of services that are being delivered.
Q: Can you explain why you describe the £170m reduction a 12% cut to pharmacy funding?
They [the DH] have said the annual funding between April and March will be 6.1% less than it is this year but they are going to deliver the change in funding between October and March.
So it may be an annualised saving of 6.1% but as it is going to be in six months that means that there is going to be a 12% cut in funding in the second half of the year.
They can dress it up as though it is only 6% across the year but that inevitably is going to have a massive impact on cash flow in pharmacy businesses.
I think it is the only inference you can make from the way the letter is worded.
Q: Do you think services will suffer if the cuts are made?
I think individual businesses are going to have to look at what they do.
In pharmacy we do deliver a number of services that are not funded, for example we don’t receive funding to offer a delivery service.
We also don’t receive funding to deliver the kind of MDS (monitored dosage system) service that we do at the moment.
Pharmacies also open for hours above and beyond their core opening hours.
Some contractors may look at those things that they do and think they have to focus their activities on the areas for which they do get funded.
Q: What do you think needs to be done now to aim for the golden 100,000 signatures?
The only way we are going to get to that is by engaging the general public.
We find time and time again that our biggest advocates out there are our patients – they are the people who understand what we do, both for them and the community.
What we need to be able to get the message out to patients.
That’s the $64,000 question now - how can we, as a profession, engage our patients and the general public in supporting that campaign?
We have seen over the last few days with the junior doctors' industrial action that they have been able to mobilise quite a bit of support from the general public.
The general public on the whole value NHS services and appreciate what we all providers in the NHS do and stand against these swingeing cuts that are getting passed down from on high.
We just need to be able to tap into that somehow, to mobilise that support for the NHS and the goodwill that we have with our patients and the general public.
We are developing this groundswell of support from within the profession; we need to get that groundswell of support outside the profession now.
Q: What can community pharmacists do to help from the counter?
Pharmacists and staff can promote the petition to their patients. How they do it internally will largely be up to them whether it be posters, leaflets, or messages on websites and blogs.
We also need our national organisations, the people who have the wherewithal, to really get engaged with this kind of campaign and find ways to spread the word as broadly and as vociferously as they can.
Any support from them would be welcome, these things should be professionally done.
In the past pharmacy has had a habit of fragmenting on issues like this, we need to be really united, push the same message out and all pull in the same direction in our engagement with the DH and also with our patients.
Q: Finally, if you could explain one thing about pharmacy to the DH, what would you tell them?
Pharmacy, and pharmacists, can do so much more in regard to medicines optimisation and relieving pressure on primary care and A&E.
We just need to have the right contractual and funding framework to offer the kind of services that can really deliver in those key areas that would allow the NHS to be more efficient and provide more effective healthcare to the general public.