Medicines supply issues were ranked as the most pressing financial issue for community pharmacy owners, in a recent ‘temperature check’ survey carried out by Community Pharmacy England (CPE).

Workforce costs, inflation and utility bills and increasing rental rates were also leading causes of financial pressures, according to a poll of 850 contractors carried out by CPE during the last two weeks of June.

The survey asked respondents to provide a score from one to 10 – with 10 being the highest – in terms of how much financial pressure issues were causing.

Although the full breakdown of results is not yet available, CPE released a graph summarising how pharmacy contractors ranked seven issues of concern.

Around two thirds of pharmacy owners said that medicine market instability was causing ‘10/10’ levels of financial pressure, while almost all the remaining contractors gave the issue an eight or nine out of 10.

Workforce, inflation and utility bills and increasing rental rates and costs scored 10/10 in terms of pressure for over half of pharmacy owners, with around a further quarter scoring these issues an eight or nine out of 10.

Many pharmacy owners also cited an increase in demand for healthcare advice, an increase in demand for services and unpredictable revenue streams as high contributors to financial pressure, in the multiple-choice survey.

Contractors also told CPE that they ‘had a strong appetite for expanding service provision, providing that new funding is secured’, and that more funding was needed to cover the costs of the service expansion set out in Year 5 of the community pharmacy contractual framework.

CPE said that it had already begun to use the information gathered in the opinion poll in shaping its position and increasing its leverage in the ongoing negotiations with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) about how the recently announced £645m additional funding for community pharmacy will be spent.

And it said that it had used the results of the poll to influence MPs at its recent parliamentary event on medicines supply.

The results of the survey were also used to inform the agenda of CPE’s recent Committee Meeting on 12 and 13 July, which the negotiator described as ‘a first’ for the organisation.

CPE chief executive Janet Morrison commented: ‘Enabling pharmacy owners to feed directly into Community Pharmacy England Committee meetings is a key strand of our new ways of working with the sector. Never before have pharmacy owners been able to directly inform our committee and have their opinions discussed at length as an agenda item in its own right.’

While CPE said that ‘many of the findings came as no surprise’, Ms Morrison added that the results of the polling ‘weren’t easy reading’ and ‘laid bare the struggles that pharmacies have to manage on a daily basis’.

‘In particular, the committee noted the severe pressures being faced by pharmacy owners in terms of the ongoing instability of generic medicines supply, dispensing at a loss and margin delivery within the constraints of Year 5 of the contract.’

She added: ‘It’s important that committee members hear this kind of feedback to help ensure they can accurately represent and make the best decisions for the whole sector. It also helps us to raise awareness of issues that matter to you with the public and policymakers.’

Uplift for other professions ‘feels unfair’

At the meeting last week, the CPE Funding and Contract (FunCon) Subcommittee also discussed changes to funding for other primary care contractor professions and elsewhere across the UK.

The government recently announced a funding uplift to the GP global sum, and a 6% pay rise for the public sector workforce, including eligible junior doctors, consultants, dentists, and senior NHS staff.

In response, Ms Morrison said: ‘The public sector workforce pay rise will be welcome news for its recipients given the huge inflationary pressures and the ongoing impact of the cost-of-living crisis. But for community pharmacy owners – who have faced 30% funding cuts in recent years and who are struggling to meet their rising wage costs – this feels unfair, and very far from good news.’

She added that CPE was ‘fully focused on the current financial and operational pressures and fighting hard for a sustainable long-term funding arrangement’.

While she said that while the recently announced £645m additional funding for community pharmacy ‘will bring vital additional funds into the sector’, Ms Morrison warned that the pay announcement for other healthcare professions ‘will undoubtedly put yet more pressure on squeezed healthcare funding’.

‘But it is critical that pharmacies get a fair deal and all the support they need to continue carrying out the services that patients, the public, and the NHS need,’ she added.