Pharmacy bodies have expressed their disappointment at the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) published today, saying it does not adequately address funding or workforce challenges.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said that it is ‘bitterly disappointed’ and ‘concerned’ that the announcement ‘contains no commitment to fresh funding’.

‘The life is being choked out of independent pharmacy businesses by the continuation of a fundamentally under-resourced contract in England,’ said NPA vice-chair, Nick Kaye.

‘While the Health Secretary is busy telling broadcasters that pharmacies can relieve more pressure from GPs, the investment that’s needed to achieve this is nowhere to be seen.

‘We can indeed do more to help patients access primary care, but only if the funding matches the level of ambition we all share in the community pharmacy sector.’

A spokesperson for the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) described the arrangement as ‘a devastating blow’ to thousands of pharmacies ‘that are struggling to survive’. It said that today’s announcement ‘is not even a promise that anything will change tomorrow, just a promise of more of the same attrition that has been weakening pharmacies since the start of the five year deal.

‘The current world situation proves that the five year, no inflation, no contingencies deal has been the biggest dis-service ever done to pharmacy and it was done by our own negotiator.

‘There also seems to be a complete denial about the failed concessions system which is wreaking havoc with pharmacies’ cash flow. PSNC assume that pharmacies can survive this even when pharmacy owners are screaming that it is causing huge problems in maintaining the existence of their businesses.

‘To cap everything, with a highly business continuity damaging workforce challenges, particularly affecting pharmacists, PSNC have agreed more professional service for pharmacies to carry out without any extra funding. Really?,’ said a statement from the organisation.

The contractual framework announced today includes a one-off write-off of £100m excess margin, which will lead to higher Drug Tariff prices in the new year. It also included the announcement of a new Pharmacy Contraception Service, as well as the ‘modest expansion’ of other services.

Bharat Patel, PSNC vice chair, member of PSNC’s Negotiating Team, and independent pharmacy contractor, said: ‘Despite the flat-funding constraints of our five-year deal, we went into these negotiations determined to do all that we could to improve the economic position of contractors. We rejected the Government’s very tough initial stance, in particular safeguarding the Transitional Payments, with some recognition of pressures, and gaining a £100m margin write off.

‘We know this is not enough – all members of PSNC remain deeply concerned about pharmacy finances and capacity – and this is why our work continues. Agreeing to the deal allowed us to bank an extra £100m for the sector.

‘Rejecting the deal, while allowing us to make a stand, would have meant losing this, as well as losing other benefits and the chance to engage constructively with a new Government.

‘We will continue to do everything within our power to demand that Government and the NHS support us through the looming economic crisis: pharmacy stepped up to support them in their Covid hour of need, and they must now return that obligation.’

Mr Kaye, NPA vice chair, said: ‘The £100m write-off on so-called excess margin goes a small way to recognising the current dire financial circumstances, but a clawback of any amount under this kind of pressure would surely be totally unreasonable.

‘We understand why this was a particularly challenging negotiation, but that doesn’t make the reality on the ground for our members any easier to bear.’

Mr Kaye said that the independent economic review of community pharmacy promised by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England ‘may yet prove to be the most significant part of today’s announcement’.

He added: ‘The current method of settling the financials appears to be based on a power imbalance rather than accurately and fairly weighing up evidence. The NPA-commissioned EY report highlighted the importance of independent financial analysis to mitigate the risks of a monopsonistic purchaser continuing to demand more for less and undermining the sustainability of pharmacy providers.’

The Company Chemists' Association said that it 'recognises the hard work that has been undertaken by the PSNC to reach this agreement' and was 'encouraged by the news that £100m of earned excess margin will be written off'.

However, it said that it was 'disappointed that NHSE and DHSC have chosen not to depart from the five-year funding deal, agreed at a time when the current inflationary and workforce pressures could not be envisaged.

'Bearing this in mind, NHS England’s commitment to undertake an independent economic review of community pharmacy businesses, is therefore welcome news. We encourage contractors to engage in this work.

'The NHS must also now endeavour to undertake a system wide review of the pharmacy workforce, to ensure that patients can access care when and where they need it the most.'

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