No pharmacies to date that have appealed to NHS England to be included in the Pharmacy Access Scheme have been successful, The Pharmacist has learned

A survey run by The Pharmacist, published in January this year, revealed that 15% of pharmacies are at risk of closure because of Government cuts to English community pharmacy funding. This could mean that of the 11,688 community pharmacies in England, 1,812 could be facing closure – leaving their patients with reduced care.

When confronted with questions about the impact of pharmacy closures due to the cuts on communities and wider primacy care, Government representatives have been quick to point to the Pharmacy Access Scheme (PhAS) as a cure-all for ensuring that the pharmacies most needed to protect patient access are not forced to close.

The PhAS means that some pharmacies – including those situated one mile or more away from another pharmacy – will receive top-up funding from the Government worth £1,800 a month from April 2017 and March 2018.

Applications rejected

Pharmacies not currently on the list of eligible pharmacies are able to apply to NHS England to review whether or not they also qualify to be included.

Yet new information uncovered by The Pharmacist reveals that none of those who have made an appeal have, as yet, been successful.

According to NHS England, of the applications it has received as of 30 March, 78 had been rejected and the rest had not yet been processed.

'The remaining applications for the PhAS are still under consideration and will be responded to as soon as possible,' a spokesperson said.

An opportunity?

Chief Pharmaceutical Officer (CPO) for NHS England, Keith Ridge, told The Pharmacist in November last year that no pharmacy willing to be efficient should close as a result of the reduced funding package, indicating that the PhAS would help prevent this.

'The Pharmacy Access Scheme is in place. NHS England will manage that, people are already understandably applying for that. My personal view is if community pharmacy of whatever nature, but particularly independent, embrace the opportunity in the integration fund, then sure, there are some efficiencies to be made, but that’s across the NHS – not just pharmacy.

'But the opportunities are here and they’re coming more [often]. Actually the future is positive. I [hope] we can get over this period so that we can all work together to deliver that future,' the CPO said.

This month, NHS England was challenged about pharmacy closures by the chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Meg Hillier, at a PAC meeting on 9 March.

The director of commissioning for NHS England, Rosamond Roughton, pointed to the PhAS as a way of ensuring that patient access to community pharmacies is not affected by the cuts.

Hillier told the committee about a 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 and that despite the fact that 75% of people in the area don’t have cars, the community pharmacy there is under threat.

‘Have you factored in the changes to community pharmacies to the overall access that patients have to primary care?’ Hillier asked.

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

Yet the pharmacy in question was not included on the PhAS list of protected pharmacies and has waited weeks for a response to its appeal. Its manager has said that they are not optimistic that their request will be successful, depsite claiming that they are eligible.

'When details about the scheme were first published by the Department of Health in October last year, the criteria for pharmacies to receive funding were very clearly laid out and there is a review process to allow for consideration of extenuating circumstances to ensure patient access is protected in the way intended. The document is quite clear that NHS England’s role is to administer the review process in line with the published criteria,' an NHS England spokesperson told The Pharmacist.

[box type="shadow" ]To read the case study of the pharmacy in question, click here. For the example of a pharmacy whose appeal was dismissed because they are close to a hospital pharmacy, click here.[/box]