None of the £6.6bn Covid funding announced by Matt Hancock last week (18 March) will go to community pharmacy, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has confirmed.
A DHSC spokesperson told the Pharmacist that the money ‘does not go to the sector,’ but added that additional funding to meet extra costs incurred by pharmacies during the pandemic is still being discussed with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC).
In a statement to the House of Commons last week, Mr Hancock said the funds would be used to tackle a backlog of elective procedures comprising of nearly five million patients.
He added that £594m of the money will also be used towards enabling safe early discharge of patients from hospital.
According to the DHSC, the additional £6.6bn will ‘support the hospital discharge programme, primary care costs, infection control measures and long Covid services’.
‘It will also ensure the NHS can continue to provide the mental health and occupational health support services it has put in place for nurses, paramedics, therapists, pharmacists, and other staff working on the frontline during the pandemic,’ it added.
A funding boost for general practice was also announced on Friday (19 March), with a new Covid fund of £120m to be introduced from April.
‘Prevent irreversible damage’
Malcolm Harris, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) told the Pharmacist he is ‘extremely disappointed’ that once again the pharmacy sector has been ‘overlooked’.
He said: ‘The chancellor must honour his promise of March 2020 and work with the NHS to give this critical network what it needs to prevent it from being damaged irreversibly.
‘Already reeling from cutbacks and funding freezes, to date pharmacies have spent an additional £400m to stay open and deliver NHS care in a Covid-safe way.’
He added: ‘The prime minister himself has said that he doesn’t want any pharmacies to close as a result of underfunding. Yet unless the situation changes, we will see more closures and reductions in pharmacy services, at a time when primary care is already greatly overstretched.’
Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIM, also said it was ‘disappointing’ that none of the £6.6bn would go to community pharmacies.
‘During the pandemic, our members bravely stayed open and played, and continue to play, a vital role – providing a community bridge to patients, assisting them with their non-Covid healthcare needs, relieving pressure from GPs and hospitals, and of course, increasingly supplying the vaccine,’ she said.
‘Pharmacies have had to train their staff and provide PPE. This has led to a funding shortfall which we would like the Government to recognise and to fill.’
Hard-working teams ‘forgotten’
Simon Dukes, chief executive of PSNC, said any additional funding for the NHS to help the Covid recovery was good news, but added that the NHS must recognise community pharmacies.
‘Pharmacies have much to offer through this next phase of the pandemic too and we want to see the NHS supporting them financially as it starts to plan for the future,’ he said.
‘We hope to begin negotiations on Year 3 of the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework soon, and through those we will be continuing to make the case for further funds, including NHS monies, to be invested into community pharmacy.’
The PSNC, along with the CCA and the National Pharmacy Association, also wrote a letter to the editor of the Independent this weekend highlighting how hard-working pharmacy teams have been forgotten.
‘The chancellor must work with the NHS to honour his promise of March 2020 and give this critical network what it needs to prevent it from being damaged irreversibly,’ Mr Dukes added.
A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘Community pharmacies make an important contribution to the NHS, and have gone above and beyond in response to Covid-19 to serve their communities, including playing a key role in our vaccination programme.
‘During this global pandemic, £370 million has been made available in advance payments to support pharmacies in maintaining medicine supplies and providing health advice.
They added: ‘Additional funding to meet extra costs incurred by pharmacies during the pandemic is being discussed with the PSNC.’
‘Provide equal support’
This comes as pharmacists in England launched protests earlier this month over the UK Government’s failure to cover costs incurred by the sector during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, last week the Welsh Government announced that community pharmacies in Wales would receive an additional £3.5m in funding to cover Covid costs.
Claire Anderson, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English Pharmacy Board, said: ‘Pharmacy teams have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic and having seen some encouraging funding made available in Wales and Scotland, the Government must ensure we are given equal support for our efforts in England.
‘Funding for other health services must be matched for pharmacy, to ensure we can continue to play a vital role in the response and recovery to Covid-19. Our profession deserves this and needs investment more widely, particularly in education and training to build our workforce up for the future.’