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DH might reduce pharmacy COVID repayments instead of waiving

The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) “expects” to reimburse pharmacies for COVID-19 costs by reducing the £370 million the sector must pay back, Jo Churchill has said.

The DH paid community pharmacies in England a total of £370m in advance funding between March and June 2020 to recognise their cashflow pressures during the COVID-19 pandemic. The sector is expected to repay this at some point in the future.

In November, the DH said it was “carefully considering” waiving the obligation to pay back the funding, while the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has been campaigning to have these loans written off.

However, in a Westminster Hall debate yesterday (March 11), pharmacy minister Jo Churchill said that to recognise the costs of dealing with COVID-19, the repayment could be reduced instead of waived completely.

“We are still in discussions with the PSNC about the reimbursement of COVID-19 costs incurred by community pharmacy, and I can reassure the house that the government will take a pragmatic approach,” Ms Churchill said during the debate on the impact of COVID-19 on pharmacies.

“I expect to deduct any agreed funding from the £370m advance payments, and to discuss timescales around the advance separately with the PSNC, being very mindful of the pressures. We need to assure ourselves that community pharmacies are financially stable,” she added.

“I am aware of the concerns that current funding is not enough.”

Ms Churchill acknowledged that pharmacies have closed in deprived areas. Figures released by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) in November last year showed that there were more than 400 community pharmacy closures in England in the year after April 2019, a 63% increase compared to the number of closures in the year after April 2015.

Almost one in five (18%) of the 142 pharmacy closures between May 2018 and October 2019 were in deprived areas, a C+D investigation revealed last year.

Ms Churchill said: “Importantly, there were more [pharmacies] in deprived areas, so making sure that there are still more pharmacies in deprived areas is extremely important.

“Proportionally, the closures reflect the spread of pharmacies across England, with closures tending to be where they are clustered. The most recent data shows that three quarters of the closures were part of large chains, and that aligns with consolidation announcements made before the pandemic.”

The DH has used the term “clustering” of pharmacies, describing areas where three or more pharmacies lie within 10 minutes’ walk of one another, to justify funding cuts and closures since 2016.

“The pandemic has shown across healthcare the value of our highly skilled community pharmacy teams, and how they can contribute and receive more funding,” Ms Churchill said.

You can read the debate in full here

How has your pharmacy coped during the COVID-19 pandemic?

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