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'Why pharmacies must receive NHS business rate rebates, like GPs'

The government should recognise the essential role pharmacies play in communities by repaying their business rates, says the National Pharmacy Association's Raj Patel

A survey by the Association of Convenience Stores published last month revealed that pharmacies are viewed by MPs, councillors and the general public as having a highly positive impact on the communities they serve, ranked alongside post offices and convenience food shops as the top three “most essential” local services.

In a similar vein, health secretary Matt Hancock told the NPA conference in June that community pharmacists have an “invaluable human connection with the people you serve in your communities”.

I hope he and chancellor Sajid Javid will reflect on the fact that the taxman currently penalises pharmacies, who are at the heart of communities where they are needed most.

Business rates have hit independent bricks-and-mortar pharmacies in a way that they don’t hit online pharmacy businesses, which can never offer that level of human connection and local responsiveness.

Here’s an example from one of my pharmacies, West Street Pharmacy in Crewe, which is a lifeline for substance misusers in the area. Manager Talha Choudry says: “We want to do what’s right, and add value to our community, and make sure we’re helping people – rather than just [doing] what some people might perceive as a retail transaction.”

Another oddity in the current tax regime is that pharmacies are treated differently from GPs and dentists, who both receive a rebate from the NHS for the business rates they pay. Ninety per cent of my activity is concerned with providing NHS services.

This month we have already had announcements about the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, which will see pharmacies receive referrals from NHS 111, and NHS England’s plans to launch a service to identify cardiovascular disease in pharmacies.

Adorning the walls of the NPA’s headquarters are posters hung up during last year’s NHS70 celebrations, when we were encouraged to proclaim our attachment to the NHS. They show quotations from NPA members like: “We are a resilient NHS resource, trusted in our communities,” and “Let’s be as ambitious for improving the health of the nation as were the NHS founding fathers 70 years ago.”

I myself continue to be a proud member of ‘team NHS’, but I don’t much like being treated as a semi-detached member of that team by the way I’m taxed.

The NPA board is set to discuss these matters at our next meeting, having already made initial representations on the matter at a high level. I gather there are some complicated maths, so it won’t be easy to achieve a positive outcome, but at least the conversation is underway.

Raj Patel MBE is an NPA board member and CEO of Hollowood Chemists

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