The community pharmacy sector is likely to regress in several ways if more funding is not granted as part of the community pharmacy contractual framework, the new chief executive of PSNC has said.
In an interview with The Pharmacist last week (23 March), Janet Morrison warned that without a funding uplift during the upcoming annual review, pharmacies in England would face more closures, reduced opening hours and many could be forced to opt out of advanced services.
‘It is amazing to see what community pharmacies have achieved throughout the pandemic, they have shown the immense capacity and an amazing ability to bend to patients' needs,’ Ms Morrison said.
‘However, I am not confident that on the current funding package more can be done. I fear that community pharmacy could begin to go backwards,’ she added.
PSNC’s most recent calls for greater funding were met with a ‘flat rejection’ from the Treasury.
Without additional funding it is ‘pretty obvious’ that many pharmacies would be forced to close or reduce their opening hours, Ms Morrison explained.
She said she was ‘very concerned' that many of these closures could happen in areas of high inequality.
‘We can’t choose when closures might happen, but I fear it's the worst off who could suffer the most,’ she added.
The chief executive said she had spoken to many contractors across the country since joining PSNC – from large multiples to independents – and everyone was voicing the same issues.
‘All pharmacies are struggling to keep afloat and sustain their businesses', she said.
‘There are staffing pressures and they cannot afford to hire locums which are forcing them to shut stores or say no to additional services,’such as the new hypertension and smoking cessation services she explained.
Over the pandemic, many pharmacies have offered additional services such as Covid vaccines, flu vaccines and testing services which have helped provide some extra financial support and keep pharmacies afloat.
As demand for these services begins to slow down, Ms Morrison expressed fears the full extent of the sectors financial situation may be exposed.
‘Pharmacies have really benefited from the Covid services as well as the good margins which have been in place for the last year or two.
‘Both of these are due to end and be reset at some point soon and I think that will really hurt the sector,’ she explained.
In November, The Pharmacist reported that community pharmacies across England had collectively claimed over £269m for costs relating to the Covid pandemic.
While negotiations between the PSNC and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) remain confidential, Ms Morrison said that PSNC was ready to pitch a new advanced service that could be incorporated into the CPCF.
The new minor ailment service, known as the walk-in service, could replace the community pharmacy consultation service (CPCS), which has so far proved to have been underutilised.
The new service would remove the need for patients to be referred to the pharmacy via their GP, meaning patients who needed help with a minor illness could visit the pharmacy directly and the pharmacy would get paid for the consultation.
‘The service recognises the increase in activity as a result of Covid. Contractors are telling us that the number of patients who are coming in is rising as is the complexity of cases,’ she explained.
According to PSNC estimates, a community pharmacy walk-in minor ailments service would save 40 million GP appointments – averaging 12 minutes each and therefore representing around eight million hours of GP time.
She said PSNC hoped to pitch the service to the Government ‘this week’. However, at the moment, the Government had ‘other ideas’ around enhancing ‘current services’ which are already in the contract.
Ms Morrison said that PSNC had had ‘positive’ and ‘constructive’ conversations with the Government during negotiations so far.
She said that the body was stressing the ‘potential’ of community pharmacy to help the Government and NHS in reducing pressures on other parts of the healthcare system.
The amendment – put forward by Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath – would have also required the health secretary to make the 'best use of and expand' the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service.
Conservative peer, Baroness Penn disagreed with the proposals and called for Lord Hunt to withdraw the amendment. She said that the Government was already ‘threading self-care through a wide range of work, reflecting the range of areas that it impacts upon’.