Pharmacy contractors have been encouraged by PSNC’s chief executive to ‘come together’ in support of proposals that would increase the funding received by PSNC from levies paid by contractors.

Janet Morrison welcomed the findings of the Review Steering Group (RSG), released today (29 April), which was set up to ensure contractors receive the best value for money from the levies they pay.

With the average pharmacy contractor paying £1,000 per year for representation and support - £700 to LPCs and £300 to PSNC - the RSG said its proposal would ‘rebalance the funding of local and national bodies’ by diverting an additional 13% of funds from LPCs to PSNC.

The RSG, which is comprised of 10 representatives from across pharmacy, has been working for 15 months to examine findings of a report published in 2020 from Professor David Wright on contractor representation and support in England.

Reducing LPC committee sizes and removing use of the term ‘chemist’ in communications are among the recommendations made by the group.

Ms Morrison urged contractors to reach a consensus, saying that a ‘no vote’ from contractors would impact the credibility of the sector.

She said: ‘I know reaching consensus has not been easy and I can see already that we face similar challenges when negotiating on behalf of the whole sector. But we must not underestimate the importance of coming together, including behind these proposals, and we must not let divisions distract and thwart the more important work we have to do on behalf of all community pharmacy owners.’

If the recommendations are implemented, PSNC will change its name to Community Pharmacy England and LPCs will be rebranded as Community Pharmacy Local.

To drive efficiencies, the RSG said LPCs should review boundaries and committee sizes, which could see LPCs in England reduce from 68 to between 39 and 42, to align more closely with integrated care systems (ICS) organisation. Any changes would be subject to the views of contractors via a local vote.

To help deliver improvements and promote transparency, the RSG is also recommending key performance indicators (KPIs) relating, for example, to average local service commissioning income per contract, LPC running cost per contract, committee and governance cost and staff costs.

The RSG also proposed limiting PSNC and LPC membership for all committees and subcommittees to 12 years of service, and reducing the numbers of PSNC committee members, ‘while maintaining the current balance between independents and multiples’.

Asked if the RSG is suggesting PSNC is value for money and LPCs are not, Stephen Thomas, RSG member and superintendent pharmacist at Rowlands Pharmacy, said: ‘There’s still relevance and importance in locally commissioned services,’ but ‘a large part of the contractual framework is negotiated nationally’ and ‘the national negotiator needs more money.’

Rather than increasing contractors’ individual contributions, the RSG suggested that ‘PSNC will need to better support LPCs to make efficiencies to release this funding without increasing the overall burden on contractors.’

Mr Thomas said: ‘The work of the RSG has been about analysing, listening and ultimately finding a way to take forward the findings of the independent review that works for all contractors. There have been difficult discussions, but that has been our only focus throughout.

‘We hope this report persuades you that our proposals will lead to very positive changes for the future, with the potential for further change building on these first steps, which all contractors can and should support.’

It is proposed that the term ‘chemist’ will also be removed in general communications, where possible, and replaced with ‘community pharmacy’ or ‘pharmacist’.

Contractors are invited to review the proposals and have their say. A three-week voting period will begin on 23 May.

In its recommendations, the RSG said a ‘yes’ vote ‘will set a clear mandate for change,’ with recommendations expected to be implemented from July and fully completed by the end of 2023/24.

However, a ‘no’ vote by contractors could leave the future of the project uncertain, with RSG commenting that ‘doing nothing is not an option.’

Other key recommendations of the report include:

  • Organise pharmacy representation regions to match the seven NHS regions: East of England, London, Midlands, North East & Yorkshire, North West, South East, South West.
  • Provide further support for all LPCs by increasing central service development and support capacity, advice and information sharing.
  • Provide support that standardises practices across the LPC network in line with good practice on HR and finances
  • Achieve efficiencies through reducing duplication by LPCs and increasing collaboration.

PSNC vice-chair, Bharat Patel, also said that he supported the proposals, identifying them as ‘a pathway to change’. He said: ‘As a PSNC member for some 15 years and an LPC member for more than 20 years, I have seen close-hand the struggles that both organisations face – their pressures reflect those being felt across the sector, and as they said when PSNC first initiated the independent review, they need to find ways to work better together and to improve outcomes for contractors.

‘The RSG’s proposals seek to find those ways, and it is difficult to disagree with any of them. I’ll certainly be voting for these proposals, and I would encourage others to do likewise: if we do, we are setting a pathway to change which as both an independent contractor and PSNC vice-chair I am excited about and committed to. If we don’t, and choose instead to keep debating what might have been done differently, then we cannot complain when our representatives – local and national – find themselves unable to move forward, and unable to get better answers on our behalf.’

Ms Morrison added: ‘Strengthening governance, improving collaboration, aligning with the NHS and ensuring contractors’ money is spent most effectively to get them the best value, must be principles that are difficult for anyone (in any sector) to argue against. I hope community pharmacy contractors will agree. A no vote on these proposals, in my view, simply makes us, as a sector, less credible in the eyes of the NHS and Government, who are ultimately the people we need to be focused on.

‘Change is not easy, but it is vital, and I welcome the chance these proposals give to help us make improvements, while also allowing for a review following implementation to assess the appetite for any future changes.’

The RSG, made up of pharmacy representatives from across the sector, has made 37 proposals across six main areas:

  • Independent governance of LPCs and PSNC
  • Appropriately resource PSNC to improve negotiating outcomes and carry out its full range of functions for contractors
  • Develop a new national vision and strategy for community pharmacy
  • Listen better to contractors so their voices are better heard at all levels
  • Reduce variation between LPCs, improve their efficiency and focus their activities
  • Review the efficiency, size and shape of the LPC network