The supply of prescriptions medicines could be at risk without urgent investment from the government, community pharmacy leaders have said in a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

They said that a 30% real-term funding cut over the last seven years had ‘pushed us to our limit operationally’ and funding, workforce and capacity constraints were already ‘degrading patient services’.

Many pharmacy owners believe their businesses will not survive 2023, they added, warning that that ‘without urgent intervention’ the sector is ‘moving towards large numbers of permanent pharmacy closures, putting the safe supply of prescription medicines at risk’.

The letter, signed by representatives from PSNC, CCA, AIM and NPA, as well as Boots UK, LloydsPharmacy, Well and Phoenix, called for the government to provide a ‘blueprint for the future of the community pharmacy network’, which they said must be backed by investment.

‘Building on the agility we demonstrated during the pandemic, we want to deliver better support for patients and to reduce pressure on NHS services’, the sector leaders wrote.

‘Pharmacies can free up millions of GP appointments and provide easy access to urgent care and healthcare advice through a fully-funded “Pharmacy First” service. We also see a wider role for pharmacy in supporting medicines optimisation, prevention, tackling health inequalities, managing long-term conditions, and more,’ they added.

The sector representatives said that they supported health secretary Steve Barclay’s desire for community pharmacies to provide additional services, and were looking forward to seeing the upcoming Primary Care Recovery Plan.

‘But we are clear that unless the plans for community pharmacy include steps to put us on a sustainable footing, we won’t reach our full potential in helping with your goals for the health service,’ they told the Prime Minister.

‘It’s good news that Government sees community pharmacy as part of the solution to NHS challenges’, said Janet Morrison, PSNC chief executive.

She added that PSNC have worked up a detailed business case for a Pharmacy First scheme ‘which would crucially help patients and relieve pressure on GPs and other frontline services’.

Ms Morrison previously told The Pharmacist that the negotiating body would not commit the sector to delivering a Pharmacy First scheme unless the funding package was agreed by DHSC.

Malcom Harrison, chief executive of the CCA, said that the community pharmacy sector ‘is in crisis’, highlighting an estimated annual shortfall of £67,000 per pharmacy which he said could be invested to provide vital patient-facing care for the NHS.

As well as a fully funded Pharmacy First scheme, he said that ‘the sector needs an immediate and recurrent uplift in funding to reflect the increasing workload pharmacy teams are taking on’.

‘But the decision is now in the hands of the Prime Minister to reverse the trend of permanent pharmacy closures by properly funding pharmacies,’ he added.

Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the NPA, said: ‘We’ve told the Health Secretary about the great care pharmacies provide, we’ve shown the Chancellor that it’s value for money and now we’re warning the Prime Minister that key services are at risk.

‘They have a shared responsibility to invest in community pharmacies, make the choice to back us and prevent the sector from spiralling into irreversible decline.’

He added: ‘If they continue to ignore our appeals for fair funding, they will be failing millions of people who rely on pharmacies for accessible healthcare, including many vulnerable older people.’

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of AIM, said: ‘When will the government and the Prime Minister himself, who prides himself on being the son of a pharmacist, recognise the great value our sector brings to the healthcare system and patient care and fund pharmacies appropriately?’

While a candidate for PM, Mr Sunak made much of his experience helping in his family’s pharmacy.

On a visit to the chemist formerly run by his mother in Southampton, he said that he was prepared to reform the NHS and achieve value for money in health spending if he became Prime Minister.

When Mr Sunak was announced as PM, pharmacy bodies called on him to adopt a Pharmacy First approach, but said that it would be ‘naive to expect any special treatment’ from Mr Sunak just because of his familiarity with the sector.