The NHS Long Term Plan creates more questions than it answers


By Beth Kennedy

08 Jan 2019

Our editor-in-chief is feeling grumpy about the lack of detail in NHS England’s latest planning document

Call it a severe case of the January blues, a gloomy disposition or plain old paranoia, but lately there’s been a helpless sort of dread gnawing away at me – a sense of impending doom, if you will – and it gets worse every time I pick up a newspaper.

The barrage of stories on Brexit preparation muck-ups, politicians being verbally abused outside Parliament and puerile Hollywood awards do coverage have done little to quell my suspicions that the world has gone mad, making it rather difficult to see the positive in, well, anything.

So maybe that’s to blame for my creeping sense of foreboding following the publication of the NHS Long Term Plan yesterday (7 January). Broadly welcomed by pharmacy organisations for its frequent(ish) mentions of pharmacy, I remain less than convinced.

Sure, the plan revealed some ambitious plans for the sector, such as NHS 111 calls directing patients directly to community pharmacies. Ooh and look! An announcement that community care providers are due a £4.5bn funding boost. That’s nice, isn’t it?

Well yeah, that’s great, in theory. The only problem is that there’s no implication that pharmacy will see any of this cash. In a rather concerning plot twist, the document mentions that the Government is pondering a reform in the way pharmacies are reimbursed as a way to make ‘efficiencies’.

Granted, that the word ‘efficiencies’ is being used in reference to pharmacy reimbursement doesn’t exactly leave one feeling warm and fuzzy. That the document doesn’t elaborate on what these reforms could look like or what these so-called efficiencies would entail does nothing to help. Answers have not been forthcoming, despite The Pharmacist contacting NHS England for clarification.

Then there was the reference to clinical commissioning groups setting up pharmacy connection schemes for patients who don’t need primary medical services. Again, there was no elaboration on what these schemes were and NHS England has not yet responded to The Pharmacist’s request for clarification.

All of these unanswered questions in such a major planning document make me wonder whether NHS England has inadvertently revealed that it doesn’t actually have a clear plan for the sector over the next decade.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; pharmacy has proven that it is worth investing in time and time again. The sector deserves clear and frank answers to these questions – especially after more than two years of severe financial setbacks.

So we at The Pharmacist are going to continue to fight for answers that the sector needs to move towards the ‘greater use of pharmacists’ skills’ that NHS England purports to be working towards in the Long Term Plan. We’ll let you know how we get on.