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'I've had pharmacists crying down the phone – how can they prepare?'

The NPA’s director of pharmacy is concerned contractors will not be able to play a greater role in the NHS when they are struggling to pay staff salaries and wholesaler bills.

Contractors in England have reported being “thousands of pounds out of pocket”, after receiving their balancing payments for January, National Pharmacy Association (NPA) director of pharmacy Leyla Hannbeck told C+D on Monday (March 25).

“I’ve been called by contractors who are very upset, because they can’t pay their staff or wholesalers,” she said. “From my own perspective as a pharmacist – and knowing how much work we do – it is very difficult when pharmacists are calling me crying.”

Her remarks come after pharmacists and their representatives reported facing the toughest month yet for their finances.

Ms Hannbeck claimed contractors are not taking salaries and “trying to cut costs where possible”, including taking on more work after hours to “tidy shelves and check labels, because they can’t afford the staff to do it for them”.

Pharmacists can’t plan for the future

With the current funding pressures, pharmacists will struggle to take on the additional responsibilities proposed in the NHS long-term plan, Ms Hannbeck warned.

In the plan, published in January, NHS England referred to a greater role for community pharmacists, including testing patients for “high-risk conditions” – such as high blood pressure, raised cholesterol and atrial fibrillation – and offering medicines reviews and inhaler advice to patients with respiratory disease.

But Ms Hannbeck said it is hard to prepare for the future when formal negotiations on the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee’s proposals for a five-year, services-focused contract are yet to start.

“I don’t know what sort of contract will be negotiated…but if pharmacy is asked to have a bigger role [in the NHS], they will need money to be able to invest in it,” she stressed.

“Pharmacy knows it needs to change, but pharmacists will need breathing space to be able to plan. At the moment they are just trouble shooting.

“If you are struggling to make ends meet and sort the basics, like paying your drugs bill, you are not going to be able to think about your next step,” she added.

C+D’s Salary Survey 2018 revealed some contractors feel “sick” at their workload, and that stress levels for pharmacists have risen six percentage points in three years.

How is your pharmacy coping with the funding pressures?

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