The government has refused to accept its consultation into community pharmacy cuts is “flawed” following the first step of a legal challenge to its plan to axe £170m in funding.

Following the shock letter on 17 December 2015, in which the 6% budget reduction was announced, eight independent pharmacies and pharmacy groups have launched proceedings against the Department of Health.

Pharmacy minister Alistair Burt was given until 4pm on March 18 2016 to respond to a letter that detailed the grounds for claiming the consultation is illegal.

There is no reasonable detail about why the consultation is taking place, there is insufficient explanation or information to support the proposals and there has been no suggestion the government will change its plans following the consultation outcome, lawyer David Reissner has said.

Reissner, from Charles Russell Speechlys LLP, is representing the pharmacists in their battle.

He said he received a “detailed letter” late on Friday (18 March 2016) afternoon from the government’s lawyers.

“The Government refuses to accept that its “consultation” is flawed.

“My initial view is that the Government has not satisfactorily addressed the case we set out in the letter sent to the Minister on 4 March,” he said.

Reissner was unable to comment further at this stage.

Named pharmacies partaking in the legal challenge include 56- branch Kamsons Pharmacy, Murray’s Pharmacy that owns 25 premises and Medipharmacy Group that has 23 sites.

They are joined by 10-strong Hobbs Pharmacy and Hopkins Pharmacy in Uxbridge.

A possible next step would be to take the government to the High Court for a judicial review.