Fresh calls have been made for long-term funding for community pharmacy after the sector appeared to be excluded from the government’s latest winter funding package for the NHS.

Following a meeting with healthcare leaders earlier this week, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced a £200m funding package to help ‘boost NHS resilience’ throughout the winter.

But the sector’s negotiating body Community Pharmacy England (CPE) confirmed to The Pharmacist that it was not invited to the talks and was not aware of any community pharmacy leaders who were.

And the Royal College of GPs, who were in attendance, expressed its disappointment that the resulting winter plan does not include any ‘additional funding for primary care’.

The DHSC has not revealed any specific details on where the extra £200m will be spent, but prime minister Rishi Sunak said that the funding would ‘bolster the health service during its busiest period, while protecting elective care so we can keep cutting waiting lists’.

And the government said that the most recent cash injection follows previous announcements of additional funding for primary care, including £645m for community pharmacies in England to deliver Pharmacy First and other new services.

Amid the injection of funding to ease winter pressures, community pharmacy leaders have highlighted the need to invest long-term in the community pharmacy sector.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), told The Pharmacist that this type of available NHS funding would be better invested ‘for long term planning in the community’, using the community pharmacy network ‘as a stable provider’.

She said that community pharmacy was ‘in survival mode’ and had been for nearly two years, adding that the government must address core funding issues to ensure a stable network.

And she described winter pressures as ‘yet another overlay on the underlying and significant long-term pressure our sector experiences’, due to a lack of core funding, issues following the pandemic and the pressure on community pharmacies to see patients signposted from GP surgeries.

‘Community pharmacy teams have consistently delivered; but there is zero capacity for additional workload, never mind existing workload,’ Dr Hannbeck said.

And she questioned whether the £200m would be used effectively or ‘go to funding expensive bureaucracy’.

In addition, she said that the community pharmacy sector was yet to receive an update on the £645m promised to the sector in May, despite GPs having already been able to apply for new telephony systems funded in the primary care recovery plan.

And Dr Hannbeck said that the government remained ‘largely silent on the core funding which is the biggest issue for our sector at the moment’.

Gareth Jones, director of corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) also called on the government to address the ‘year-round crisis’ of ‘chronic underfunding’ facing the sector, which he said was ‘not only a matter of seasonal resilience’.

And he said that the sector’s capacity to ‘take the extra strain’ this winter was ‘blunted’ by the fact that community pharmacy funding had fallen ‘way behind’ other NHS expenditure.

But he said that if the long-awaited Pharmacy First Service were up and running this winter it would ‘open up a new patient pathway that can helps millions of people.’

Janet Morrison, CPE chief executive, also said that community pharmacies needed ‘investment and sustained support all year round’ if they were to be able to continue to play ‘a vital role in easing winter pressures acting as a safety net for the NHS and patients during this most critical of seasons for the health service’.

She said that the £645m promised to the community pharmacy sector earlier this year was ‘positive first step’ but said that ‘community pharmacies need a long-term sustainable funding outlook so that they continue to play the roles the NHS so desperately needs them to’.