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'The DH was brought to the brink of an embarrassing defeat'

C+D's editor asks if community pharmacy should view the High Court result as a failure, or a success

Reading back over the judgment from the High Court, it’s hard to believe pharmacy’s joint cases against the funding cuts in England were rejected. The document is littered with damning assessments of the Department of Health’s (DH) decision-making process – from having “no good reason” to withhold an assessment of potential pharmacy closures, to the acknowledgement of a “real risk” that these closures will reduce access and spell the end of free delivery services.

Ultimately, the arguments of both the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) came up against the harsh reality that the cuts were – in the words of Judge Justice Collins – “clearly governed by the need to make savings”. C+D’s reading of the judgment is that this is enough to justify “hardships for individual pharmacies, and for some who make use of them”.

So where does the sector go from here? While there is now no hope of the funding cuts disappearing, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of what has just happened. The judgment has blown open the government’s excuse that the funding drop will bring “efficiencies”, and revealed what we all knew: that it is happy to sacrifice long-term patient access to healthcare services for the sake of short-term savings.

What’s more, community pharmacists – a profession, until recently, barely on the radar of senior politicians – has brought the DH to the brink of an embarrassing defeat.

This represents a significant power shift. Two years ago, the DH felt so confident of its position that it sidelined PSNC from funding negotiations. But following Justice Collins’ assessment of how the government handled this process, it’s hard to see how it could try the same trick again.

The judgment appears to set a precedent for the DH to engage with community pharmacy, rather than trample over it. Each criticism the judge levelled at the government yesterday – and there were many – is a potential weapon for the sector, and its champions in parliament, to use to defend itself from further cuts.

For pharmacy businesses currently facing the dilemma of whether to reduce either services or staff to survive, this may offer small comfort. But it provides a glimmer of hope for the future.

In the meantime, C+D will continue to shed light on the impact the funding cuts are having on community pharmacies and their employees. If you would like to share your story, please email [email protected] with the subject line ‘Funding cuts’.

James Waldron is editor of C+D. Email him at [email protected] or contact him on Twitter at @CandDJamesW


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