The chancellor’s lack of commitment to covering pharmacies’ Covid-incurred costs in the budget is ‘exasperating and disappointing’, according to the Pharmacy Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC).

The budget, which was announced on 3 March by chancellor Rishi Sunak, did not mention funds for pharmacy. It also did not mention writing off the £370m debt incurred by pharmacies staying open in a Covid-secure way throughout the pandemic, which PSNC had called on the chancellor to do.

Simon Dukes, PSNC’s chief executive, said: ‘HM Government states that it has provided £63bn for frontline health services during the pandemic, yet it has still not taken this opportunity to commit to paying pharmacies the £400m that they have spent in responding to Covid-19.

‘Nor have we had any signs that the NHS wishes to give pharmacy its fair share of the health service’s pandemic funds.

‘This is exasperating and disappointing. Community pharmacies are part of the NHS and are the primary entry point into the NHS for many millions of people - they offer unpaid healthcare advice to more than 48 million people every year, alongside dispensing the medicines that keep so many people health and out of hospitals.’

He added that pharmacies have spent their emergency Covid loans on staying open, and they ‘must’ have these costs covered.

Business support

The budget did include an extra £1.6bn to continue the rollout of the Covid vaccination programme.

It also featured business support, including a recovery loan scheme where businesses of any size can apply for loans from £25,000 to £10m, which will launch on 6 April and replace the existing Covid loan schemes. The Government will provide a guarantee to lenders of 80% for these loans.

The 100% business rates holiday will also be extended until the end of June.

Corporation tax will increase to 25%, but the current rate of 19% will stay the same for businesses with profits of £50,000 or less.

Business will also be able to carry back losses of up to £2m for three years.

The chancellor announced two new schemes for businesses, including Help to Grow: Management, which is designed to enable small and medium-sized businesses to get management training with the Government contributing 90% of the cost.

The second is Help to Grow: Digital, which will give free training and a 50% discount on new productivity-enhancing software up to £5,000 each.

Community pharmacy ‘ignored’

National Pharmacy Association chief executive, Mark Lyonette, said the budget showed a lack of support for pharmacy.

Mr Lyonette said: ’The continuation of financial assistance for parts of the economy that have been forced to close during lockdown is understandable.

‘However, it highlights once again the lack of support for pharmacies, which have, in effect, been penalised for staying open. We continue to press for the Covid costs incurred by pharmacies, such as extra staffing at peak periods, to be repaid.’

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, agreed: ‘Yet again, community pharmacies have been ignored despite keeping their doors open to deliver NHS care throughout the pandemic.

‘Unless [pharmacies] receive fair funding for previous and ongoing Covid costs, there is a risk that more pharmacies will close.’

He added: ‘Closures and financial cutbacks will mean more reductions in pharmacy services, at a time when primary care is already overstretched. We call on the government to do the right thing and provide this sector with the funding it so urgently needs.’

Claire Anderson, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English Pharmacy Board, welcomed the commitment to the vaccination programme, but also said that action was needed to ensure the reimbursement of additional costs of Covid.

Ms Anderson said: ‘It’s welcome to see the chancellor recognise the importance of delivering the Covid-19 vaccination programme in his Budget announcement.’

‘Pharmacists and their teams remain highly accessible to the public and have provided care by remaining open throughout the pandemic. With continued pressures on frontline pharmacists, we need action.’