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NPA: Rishi Sunak must reimburse pharmacy for COVID-19 costs

Chancellor Rishi Sunak should reimburse community pharmacy for the costs incurred due to COVID-19, says National Pharmacy Association (NPA) chair Andrew Lane

It seems that pharmacists are more popular than ever, with most of the public backing community pharmacy. That’s one of many encouraging findings in the NPA’s latest survey, which received 1,000 responses from members of the public between June 5 and June 8.

Eight in 10 respondents (81%) have a favourable view of pharmacy, up by 15% in the four years since we last ran a comparable survey of public opinion. Three quarters of the public (73%) want pharmacies to expand their offering to alleviate pressure on other parts of the NHS.

The strength of public opinion in favour of pharmacies is very encouraging. We hope it will help persuade the government to invest in sustainable pharmacy services and to think of pharmacies as a key asset for the NHS as it seeks to stabilise itself in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, you should be very proud of yourselves and the pharmacy profession overall, for the great work you do for patients and communities – our survey shows how much this has been appreciated.

I was fascinated by the data in the survey about the public’s enduring attachment to face-to-face care. The vast majority of respondents (77%) think it is important to have face-to-face contact with their pharmacist in the pharmacy. This attitude is especially pronounced among patients of independent pharmacies. It’s a reminder that the human touch matters in healthcare.

There are probably more face-to-face interactions in community pharmacies than there are in any other part of the health and social care system, given that an estimated 1.6 million people visit a pharmacy every day, according to a government document published in 2008.

It perhaps follows naturally that nine in 10 people (88%) want the pharmacy network to remain intact with the same number of pharmacies as there are now, or more. A mere 2% think the number of pharmacies should decrease.

In recent weeks, I have visited many independent pharmacies to thank them for their resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I often think what a tragedy it would be if they were forced to close for lack of funds. It’s time for the Treasury to get in step with public opinion and reimburse pharmacies for the extra costs they have borne to stay open during the pandemic.

Testing and mobilisation of public opinion is one part of our wider advocacy strategy. We seek to bring together the interests of patients, NHS, government and pharmacies, to achieve a common purpose – the recovery of the healthcare system, improving access to services and saving lives.

To that same end, we – and other pharmacy bodies – continue to work with MPs to scrutinise government policy, meet regularly with officials and gather evidence about the impact of current funding deficiencies. Community pharmacy cannot hope to live up to the expectations of the public for a greater role within the NHS without the public investment needed to sustain change and improvement.

So this is my question to Mr Sunak, the son of a pharmacist: the public backs us, will you now do the same?

Andrew Lane is chair of the National Pharmacy Association


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