Cormac’s view on the pharmacy funding cuts: A missed opportunity…

Today, the Minister David Mowat announced the feared cuts to community pharmacy funding in England.  To say that the details of the final package are disappointing is a huge understatement.

When the Government’s intentions were first laid out at the start of the process, the proposed financial arrangements were couched as part of a wider plan to transform community pharmacy – the ambition for community pharmacy for 2016/17 and beyond all seems grossly disingenuous given that the only thing we’ve really got to show is a reduction in funding.

With very little consultation undertaken and even less listening, proposals to save the NHS money dismissed out of hand and an apparent lack of consideration of the bigger picture, the stealthy and short-sighted manner in which the cuts have been handed down leaves a bitter taste for us all, and we must start to bear the impact and consider the future.

Over the course of this week, the Minister has made several references to private and public  companies and private equity involvement which implies a negative perception of larger contractors delivering community pharmacy services.  Community pharmacy is arguably the most successful and long standing public/ private partnership there is, and no contractor is immune from the Government’s decision today, regardless of its size or ownership. It may seem like easy pickings to those that have made the decision; however we know that the cuts threaten to curtail our future, hitting the very heart of what makes us an integral part of the communities and people we serve.

There are better ways of modernising the sector and shifting the emphasis from volume based dispensing to service focussed community pharmacy, arbitrary cuts is not the correct approach.  We need to do things differently – and without any further delay.

Reflecting on this announcement and what has gone before over the last nine or ten months, it’s clear that we must keep up the pressure to achieve our stated aim, the Community Pharmacy Forward View.  A sector which has come together to define our future direction, a campaign which led to 2.2 million signatures into Number 10, several debates in Parliament, broad support from patient groups, local government and other health professions, cross party consensus around the role of community pharmacy – we can’t all be wrong!

We are so much more than a supply chain function; the recent evaluation of the value of community pharmacy by PriceWaterhouseCooper clearly shows that we punch above our weight in terms of the value of services provided versus cost.  The way in which community pharmacies up and down the country are supporting Public Health England and NHS England in boosting the uptake of flu vaccines is testament to this and our core offer; increasing access to the NHS, offering convenience through extended opening hours and utilising the pharmacy team’s knowledge and expertise.

The announcement about community pharmacy provision of a minor ailments scheme does not go nearly far enough. Encouraging local commissioning does not mean national coverage and will take too long to gather the necessary pace and scale to have the immediate impact required.  Winter pressures often mean that the NHS, which is already struggling to cope with increasing demand, is plummeted into chaos with missed targets, increased waiting times, and an inability for people to readily access NHS services. Surely part of the answer is to divert some of the demand into the ready-made of community pharmacy network now.  The decision to reduce the funding for community pharmacy – a sector willing and able to take its share of the pressure seems illogical and counterproductive.

There are more than 11,600 pharmacies in England  run by expert healthcare professionals who are passionate, willing, highly skilled, committed and clinically trained to take on more of the needs of the healthcare service and to provide personalised  patient care in the community.  I implore the Government to consider the implications of their actions today on an already overwhelmed NHS and the subsequent impact on the health of the nation.