Inflationary pressures are eating into funding for pharmacy services and NHS England (NHSE) is duty-bound to redress the matter, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has said.

In a statement released yesterday (18 May), NPA chief executive Mark Lyonette also stressed the next review of pharmacy funding under the contractual framework in England must result in funding sufficient for a service-led future.

He said: ‘We frequently hear about the cost of living crisis; our members are facing a cost of doing business crisis and it’s every bit as real. The underlying underfunding, significant general inflationary pressures and specific cost increases for pharmacies stand in the way of our journey to a clinically-focused future.’

The community pharmacy contractual framework (CPCF) is now in its fourth year of a five-year settlement, after being published in July 2019. The deal between the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), NHSE and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) capped core income at £2.59bn.

However, the NPA has calculated that, had the global sum increased in line with inflation (including future projections) throughout the five years of the deal, more than £1.2bn in funding would flow to community pharmacy by 2024.

However, it said the real level of inflation for pharmacy businesses was likely to be even higher than the CPI inflation rate, which today hit 9%.

It also highlighted that the CPCF commits to review ‘the funding model and the balance between spend on dispensing and new services’ within the settlement period part of ‘creating the capacity and funding necessary to deliver the wider shift towards a greater emphasis on service delivery’.

Staff and locum costs in the sector and medicine costs had risen dramatically, previously reporting a 71% increase in the cost of employing locum pharmacists in England, it added.

‘Pharmacies cannot pass any of these increased costs onto patients and neither can they substitute away from more expensive drugs or staff – leading to an unsustainable financial squeeze across the sector,’ continued Mr Lyonette.

‘By taking advantage of their position as the monopoly purchaser of pharmacy services to suppress funding, NHS England now risks the failure of the contractual framework’s main missions.’

In September 2020, an NPA-commissioned study predicted a £497m deficit in community pharmacy funding by 2024 and stated that the network was unsustainable under the current financial framework.

The PSNC announced in February that it had entered negotiations with DHSC, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) on the fourth year of the CPCF and chief executive Janet Morrison has said the community pharmacy sector is likely to regress in several ways if more funding is not granted as part of the deal.

However, the negotiating body has already said the sector is unlikely to see any additional funding for the two remaining years.

Negotiations are continuing and the PSNC said details of any agreement reached will be released to contractors ‘as soon as possible’.